Originally created 08/11/00

Children's doctor closes shop

AIKEN - The office on Trafalgar Lane is nearly empty now, stacked with giveaway boxes of medical supplies and other remains of 33 years in one place.

The Cat in the Hat watched from a book rack this week, and a ceramic Madonna with Child gazed from a nearby table as Dr. Eugene McManus cleared out the office where he treated Aiken's children for so long - as many as three generations in some families. Orthopedic supplies will be shipped to Pineapple, Ark., where a hospital will use them for poor children. Some boxes are headed for Honduras, where medical missionaries labor. The local Salvation Army thrift store will get some boxes, too.

The hard part, "Dr. Mac" said, was taking down the brass plaque on the door, but he did it himself after retiring in April at age 70. The rest has taken more time, partly because the office, bare as it seems, is still filled with memories. One of the last things to come down is a bulletin board full of patients' pictures, some with gap-toothed grins.

"Pediatrics doesn't do much to make you feel any younger," he said, pointing to pictures of children who have since grown up and trusted him with children of their own.

One is Bobby Walters Jr., whose children and his grandchildren came to Dr. McManus.

"I'll never forget the day I took a cast off Bobby's arm," the doctor recalled. "He took one look at himself and fainted right there on the table. He hadn't expected his arm to look smaller. After that, I tried hard to remember to explain things like that to children."

It was one of the things people in Aiken love about him.

Joe Andrews - still "Joey" to the doctor - is 35 now, the oldest of eight Andrews children to grow up under the pediatrician's care. "He was living in Boston when his daughter was born," recalled his mother, Rosemarie. "When he came home for a visit, he took the baby by to see Dr. Mac. Of course, he didn't examine her, but he held her and said, `She seems like a healthy little girl.' It was like Joe just felt more comfortable hearing that from him."

The youngest of the Andrews, Michael, was the only one who didn't get his college physical from Dr. Mac. Retirement came too soon, Mrs. Andrews said.

"All of our children kept seeing him until they went to college," she said. "And some of them popped in every now and then after that if they came home with something that needed to be checked."

Unlike many pediatricians, Dr. Mac didn't push his patients to find a "grownup" doctor when they hit midteens.

He had, after all, gone into pediatrics "because I wanted patients who were going to live a long time." When he was an intern in St. Louis, Mo., treating older patients, ".ƒ.ƒ. I thought if I was going to have sleepless nights, I'd rather have them with children. For a child with his whole life ahead of him, you can always find the extra energy, always find the time."

Not all did live, of course. In the early days of his practice in Aiken, there was nowhere to send children with serious burns. The doctor simply had to do the best he could. Often, those children died.

"I'll never forget the first one I had to let go," he said. "It was the first and only time I told a nurse to stop the medications - it was time to let go. She was an adopted child, and her parents were devastated. It was a difficult thing."

There were more good moments than difficult ones during the years after his class finished at what was then the Medical College of Charleston. One classmate became governor, but to Dr. McManus, he was still "Jimmy" Edwards.

Dr. McManus came to Aiken to take over an established practice when Dr. Phillip McNair - the town's first pediatrician - died. Dr. McManus and his family were in Kansas, where he worked at a clinic, and were glad to come home to South Carolina.

"We had a delightful 2´ days in an un-air-conditioned car full of children," he recalled.

"I never regretted it," he said.

Nor did scores of families who are trying to collect funds for a memorial to the doctor who never minded meeting them in the middle of the night if needed. They are halfway toward their goal of building a gazebo in Virginia Acres playground.

Donations for the project - called For the Kids - may be sent to P.O. Box 1934, Aiken, SC 29802.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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