AIKEN -- When Zelda Clayton's son was hit by a car as a young boy, Dr. Eugene McManus dropped everything and rushed to the emergency room.
Dr. McManus also sat by Mrs. Clayton's daughter's bedside during lunch breaks after diagnosing her with a rare disease when she was 19 months old.
"Doc McManus saved my daughter's life," Mrs. Clayton said. "She's 32 years old now and has been taking her 3-year-old son, Cole, to see him."
The adoring mother wrapped her arms around the longtime Aiken pediatrician's neck Sunday, sadly telling him how much he'll be missed.
Dr. McManus, or "Doc McManus" as patients lovingly call him, recently retired after devoting four decades to healing children. The 70-year-old Charleston native closed his practice on Trafalgar Lane after serving as pediatrician and friend to many of Aiken's families.
More than 250 of Dr. McManus' former patients lined up Sunday to thank the beloved physician at a party held for him at Woodside Plantation Country Club.
Dr. McManus greeted every one of them with a hug and a kiss.
"I'm overwhelmed," he said. "I'm really going to miss the children and the relationships I had with their families."
Although Dr. McManus has three children and seven grandchildren of his own, he made himself available to check sniffles and sneezes at any hour of the day.
He watched babies grow up and bring their babies to him.
"I must have been born to take care of kids," Dr. McManus said. "Even though I'm retired, I plan to find something to do with children."
Instead of a guest book, well-wishers signed a sheet of crinkly paper rolled out on an examining table. Grateful parents brought pictures of their children for a scrapbook.
"He was the most wonderful, caring doctor we ever had," said state Rep. Robert S."Skipper" Perry, R-Aiken, whose sons were patients. "It was just unreal how he could calm down a screaming child."
Lisa Lyell, 23, who was Dr. McManus' patient since she was 2 months old, said: "He's a good man and a good doctor. He never made you scared because he always made little jokes."
Christy Kisner said she was devastated after she received Dr. McManus' letter announcing his retirement. He cared for her two children, now in their 20s, until last month.
"He would kiss and love on them," she said. "He had a way of making them feel special."
Mrs. Kisner threw the party for Dr. McManus -- along with Gail Dedmon, Claire Hesse and Brenda Wyatt -- because he taught them so much about motherhood.
"I think he deserves the key to the city," said Mrs. Wyatt, whose two children -- now 21 and 28 -- were patients.
Although it's not a shiny key, the Aiken City Council approved a project last week for a private group to build a children's gazebo at Virginia Acres playground in Dr. McManus' honor. Donations for the project -- called For the Kids -- can be sent to P.O. Box 1934, Aiken, SC 29802.
The gazebo, complete with an arts and crafts table for children, should be finished this summer.
Reach Katie Throne at (803) 279-6895.