By Michaela Gibson Morris
TUPELO – When Dr. Gene Murphey came to Tupelo, North Mississippi Medical Center was still the hospital on the hill and house calls were part of the job.
Sixty-four years later, the internal medicine physician has hung up his stethoscope.
“I enjoyed helping people,” said Murphey, 93. “I just never did want to do anything else.”
He’s leaving a legacy as a physician and community arts advocate.
“He is one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” said Dr. Bill Woods, who practiced with Murphey for 36 years before retiring 11 years ago. “He’s a great physician.”
Murphey has an uncanny expertise in diagnosing patients based on their history and physical exam because of his early training before many tests and imaging studies were available, his colleagues said.
“There are things this guy knows that some of us never will,” said Dr. Ken Harvey, one of Murphey’s IMA-Tupelo colleagues.
Murphey never stopped adapting to evolving medical technology.
“Dr. Murphey was the first physician at IMA to have a computer in his office,” Harvey said, noting Murphey had an easier time learning to use them than many of his younger colleagues.
Murphey, who was born in West Point, but primarily grew up in Itta Bena and Long Beach, was inspired to go into medicine by his grandfather, the original Eugene Murphey, a general practitioner in Macon.
“He would let me go on house calls with him when I was in town,” Murphey said.
Medicine has evolved exponentially during Murphey’s professional career. He clearly remembers the arrival of penecillin at Charity Hospital in New Orleans during his residency, and ranks antibiotics as the most significant development he has seen as a physician.
“It made a real difference,” Murphey said.
During his early days in Tupelo, Murphey had the first and only EKG machine in town.
“If I needed to do an EKG on a patient, I had to take mine with me,” Murphey said. “It weighed about 50 or 60 pounds, and it had a handle so I guess you would call it portable.”
In 1966, Murphey was joined by Wood. In the 1980s, they would join with Drs. Antone Tannehil and Frank Lummus to form Internal Medicine Associates, the predecessor of IMA-Tupelo.
Murphey and wife Margaret Anne, who serves as executive director of the North Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, have a long history of involvement in the arts. He is a founding member of Southern Light Photography Club, and both Murpheys have been active with Tupelo Community Theatre through the years, even reprising their performances in “Plaza Suite” at anniversary events.
As Murphey kept practicing long after typical retirement age, outlasting many younger physicians, his colleagues would poke fun at him as they worried over the increasing shortage of internal medicine physicians.
“Soon there’s not going to be anyone left but Gene Murphey,” was the punch line, he said.
However, lymphedema has taken a toll on his body. He continued to see patients well past his 93rd birthday. He officially retired on March 4, Mardi Gras day.
The grandson of one of his original house call patients called this week after learning of Murphey’s retirement. The long-ago patient wouldn’t go into the hospital so Murphey made a few trips out to the country home to treat his pneumonia.
“He said he remembered me clearly,” Murphey said, adding that the grandfather had lived to be 103.