LOCAL FOLKS: Conservative doctor a rebel in typically liberal circles

TUPELO – Psychologists are often portrayed as graybeards in sports coats plying their trade alongside decorous leather couches. But Dr. Sam Fleming III prefers sweater vests in Ole Miss’s Yale blue, and his couch is the bright Harvard red to match.
“I tend to get along with lawyers, but I don’t have a lot of close colleagues in my field,” said Fleming, 59, a neuro-psychologist and sex therapist who works out of the Spanish Village in west Tupelo.
The walls of his office aren’t adorned with African fertility masks or the drawings of William Blake. Instead, they hold plenty of patriotic images, and there’s even a picture of the good doctor himself, standing arm in arm with everybody’s favorite local pariah, Colonel Reb.
“Political correctness has gotten out of hand,” said Fleming. “There are so many important issues to deal with concerning education, yet we want to fight over a mascot.”
Sitting in his office, Fleming reached down into his vest and pulled up a cross hanging around his neck. “I don’t usually wear it on the outside, just to be sensitive to patients, but if people ask me I have no trouble talking about my faith,” said Fleming.
The doctor’s conservative views have occasionally pushed him toward the margins of a profession some see as the epitome of liberal scientism.
On the other hand, the Ole Miss graduate doesn’t exactly shrink from the moniker of rebel – both literally and figuratively. His upper left arm is stenciled with a tattoo of the album cover from Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.”
“My kids finally convinced me to get it on beach trip,” he said.
Fleming served in the Army before enrolling at Ole Miss in 1980, and his father, Sam II, was a general in the National Guard, so patriotism is big part of his self-identity. He’s carried that sober, dutiful military ethic into his work as a counselor.
He built up a lucrative private practice in Gadsden, Ala., before handing it over to his associates three years ago in order to return home and care for his father. These days he does a slightly more modest but still successful business working primarily with children.
Among other patients, Fleming takes referral from the Department of Human Services, evaluating children who might wind up in the foster care system. It’s taxing work.
“The other day I met a 5-year-old girl who had numerous sexually transmitted diseases,” said Fleming, shaking his head. Occasionally he’s called upon to testify in trials, and one attorney described him as tireless and fearless in his advocacy for children.
“I’m pretty hard on parents,” said Fleming. “When you neglect or harm a child you’ve given up your right to parenting.”
Professional standards preclude Fleming from wearing his religious faith on his sleeve, but his beliefs are really the backbone of his work. His pastor, the Rev. Tim Green of First United Methodist Church in Saltillo, said it’s not hard to identify Fleming as a believer.
“He has a strong devotion to God and he’s a consistent, contributing member of our church,” said Green.
In the lobby of his office, Fleming stood with his wife, Mary, who handles the front desk, and together they gave off a kind of radiant happiness.
“Intimacy between a couple is really the simplest thing,” said Fleming. “It’s like a lot of life, you just have to compromise.”
Contact Galen Holley at 678-1510 or galen.holley@djournal.com

Galen Holley/NEMS Daily Journal