ATHENS, Ga. -- Leila Denmark, a doctor her patients never forgot and one of the world’s oldest people, died Sunday in Athens at the age of 114.
A 1928 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, she was a pediatrician who practiced medicine for more than 70 years. Denmark helped develop a whooping cough vaccine and wrote a well-regarded parenting book, “Every Child Should Have a Chance,” now in its 14th printing.
She also treated thousands of children in and around Atlanta, many of whom kept up with Denmark long after they were her patients.
“People still keep in touch and want to know how she’s doing,” said her daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson, when Denmark celebrated her 114th birthday at her Athens home in February.
Born Leila Alice Daughtry in the Bulloch County town of Portal in 1898, Denmark as a young woman graduated from Tift College, then studied more at Mercer University and taught high school science for two years before she decided to become a doctor.
She was the only woman in her MCG graduating class of 1928, and only the third woman to graduate from the college.
She moved to Atlanta soon after graduation and became the first resident at Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children, now Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. After her daughter was born, she opened a practice in her home, and as a doctor became known for her generosity as well as her wisdom.
She continued to practice until she retired in 2001. At 103, she was then the oldest practicing physician in the United States.
Among many other awards, Denmark was named Atlanta’s Woman of the Year in 1953.
She was among the first physicians to say that second-hand smoke posed a danger to children, and counseled that enjoying what you do and a good diet were two keys to good health.
She believed in getting to the root causes of illness, and that laughter and a sense of humor were keys to long life.
She avoided eating much sugar, a substance medical researchers now are beginning to suspect contributes to a number of health problems, including cancer.
Those principles seemed to serve her well. Her parents died relatively young, and many of her 11 brothers and sisters — she was the third of 12 children — had heart disease, but Denmark enjoyed good health up until the last few years of her life.
She lived independently until she reached the age 106, when she left Alpharetta and came to Athens to live with Hutcherson, her only daughter.
Denmark is survived by her daughter, two grandsons and two great-grandchildren.
Funeral services are set for Thursday at 1 p.m. at Athens’ First United Methodist Church, with burial at Portal Cemetery on Friday at 11 a.m.
The family will receive friends from 6-9 p.m. Wednesday at Lord & Stephens Funeral Home East.