St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rutherfordton, NC

The Life Journey of John Gilmer Mebane

John Gilmer MebaneGyp Mebane’s father was in the insurance business, associated with the fire insurance division of Pilot Life Insurance Company. His sister, Ann Mebane, ran a private school in Irvin Park and this is where Gyp attended school through the eighth grade. The family moved to Durham, NC, where Jess Mebane, Gyp’s uncle, was developing the area known as Hope Valley. At this time, Duke University was still Trinity College, not receiving its endowment until 1930. Dr. Mebane particularly remembers that all his literary schooling at Irvin Park had been in Latin and this move and change of schools brought him face to face with the study of English grammar for the first time. No problem for this scholar who graduated among the top of his class at Durham High School in 1932.

The Mebane family moved to Chapel Hill, NC, where Gyp would attend the University of North Carolina. Chapel Hill was a small college town with activities centered on the college. Gyp remembers a Christmas party at the Carolina Inn to which the entire village was invited. Perhaps the most memorable time during the UNC years was in the second year of Med School when Dr. Mebane stayed late one evening, working in the Anatomy Lab, and left to drop by Harry’s Beer Parlor to see what was going on. Specifically, some coeds were there following a dance, including a young journalism major by the name of Harriet Elmore. Gyp knew Harriet through their families, but they had never dated. All that changed after that evening; Gyp asked Harriet for their first date – a date to see the Chapel Hill team play baseball. He laughingly remembers, “It was the first and last baseball game we ever saw, but it was a pretty good place to take a date.”

Gyp Mebane, a member of Phi Beta Kappa as an undergraduate, chose to stay a third year of Med School at UNC on a fellowship for advanced work in clinical research and pathology. When asked why he chose to study medicine, Dr. Mebane stated that from the age of about eight he always kept a bag with band aids, Mercurochrome, and first aid supplies to hand out when needed by family or friends. His father’s brother Will was a doctor and Gyp knew he wanted to be one too. He was further questioned if being a doctor was all he had thought it would be. His answer, “It was much better than I ever thought it could be!”

Dr. Mebane transferred to Harvard Medical School where he received his degree in medicine followed by association with the Harvard Teaching Service, first as an intern, then assistant resident, and finally in the resident position. He cites that the most dramatic advance in medicine at the time he was beginning his internship was the discovery of sulfa drugs and antibiotics such as penicillin as the specific treatment for bacteria.

Gilmer Mebane and Harriet Elmore were married by Bishop Gibon, assisted by Father Albert P. Mack, at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rutherfordton on June 20, 1942, with a reception following in Spindale at the Elmore home. The couple honeymooned at the Chalet Club in Lake Lure. Due to gas rationing, they had two gallons of gas – one to get to Lake Lure and one to return home.

This was the time of World War II, but Gyp was deferred from active service for a time because of a shortage of doctors. However, the US Army finally did interrupt Dr. Mebane’s training, so Harriet returned to her family in Spindale while Gyp served as a Lieutenant with the Army Medical Corps assigned to several hospitals in the South Atlantic Theater from the northern coast of Brazil to Rio de Janeiro. His final posting was in Atlanta, Georgia, at Fort McPherson, where he completed his duties as Chief of Medical Service and was discharged as a Captain in the Army.

The Mebanes, Gilmer, Harriet, and young son John Gilmer, who was born in 1944, now lived at the foot of Beacon Hill in Boston. Harriet worked for an insurance company and Gyp pursued postgraduate studies at Boston City Hospital as a research fellow for the Thorndike Memorial Service. It was here that Dr. Mebane had the honor of working with Nobel Prize winner George A. Minot, who discovered that the deficiency of B-12 was the cause of pernicious anemia. Boston was also the place where the Mebane’s second child, Jane Bacot Mebane, was born in 1948.

Rutherford Hospital was Dr. Mebane’s first position after postgraduate studies. The Mebanes settled in a home on North Washington Street where they remained for three or four years until they built their longtime home on Tryon Road. William de Berniere Mebane was born in 1949 and Robert Lindsay Mebane was born in 1952. Asked why he chose a position at Rutherford, Mebane replied, “I could practice medicine in a hospital setting as I had been doing, Kenneth Tanner was a good friend, and Harriet’s family was here in Spindale.”

Dr. Gilmer Mebane’s specialty was internal medicine with a subspecialty in cardiology. He continued his studies at Rutherford Hospital and was awarded two prestigious certificates for a physician – Fellow of the American College of Physicians and Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine. Over the years at Rutherford Hospital, he saw many changes, most significantly the beginning of the coronary care unit, the only CCU between Charlotte and Asheville at the time. Dr. Mebane was active in the Medical Society and did voluntary treatment of patients needing medical care through the collaboration of the Rutherford County Medical Society and the Rutherford Hospital staff. Dr. Mebane retired from practice at Rutherford Hospital in 1985 after forty-four years of dedicated service.

All of the Mebane children attended the University of North Carolina. Robert Mebane says his father and mother made sure all of them had the best educational opportunities - from prep school through college. John received a degree in Business Administration and he and his wife Lee now live in Charlotte. Janie’s degree was American Studies and she and husband Mac live in Taylorsville. Bern’s degree was in Latin, and he and his wife Cathy live in Greenville, SC. Robert’s degree was in History, and he received a Law degree from Cumberland Law School, in Birmingham, Alabama. He and his wife Martha live in Rutherfordton. There are fifteen grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Robert Mebane defines his father as patient, very kind, and extremely intelligent. Important lessons he learned from his father were, “Treat everyone with respect, be kind to others, and always do the best you can.” Robert describes a very happy home life with short trips to Lake Lure or Saluda. Janie remembers the Sunday afternoons at Broad or Green Rivers. The closeness to Rutherfordton of the family trips was due to Dr. Mebane’s work. Robert recalls that his father was on call at the hospital every night for eight years until two additional physicians joined the Rutherford Hospital staff. After his retirement, he greatly enjoyed family trips to Pinehurst, NC, to the golf tournaments. Robert says of his father, “He loved golf and he loved fishing. He pulled his boat to many lakes in North and South Carolina to fish.”

Asked if there were things his mother or father did to make their spiritual life more meaningful, Robert replied, “They led by example in all aspects of life, spiritual and all.” As a child, Gyp Mebane’s family attended the First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro. His mother was the soprano in the church quartet, so Gyp and his brother often accompanied their mother to her practices as well as other church activities. One of the memorable church activities was a trip to summer camp at Camp Sapphire in Brevard, NC. He feels his faith has grown as he has matured, partly due to the influence of William de Berniere MacNider, Dean and Professor of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina. He describes Professor MacNider as a good friend, a role model of a medical student, and a man of great faith. Dr. and Mrs. Mebane and family were active members of St. Francis Episcopal Church and he continues his support today. He served on the Vestry as Senior Warden. He was also a participant on one of the Search Committees for a new priest.

Asked what he considers highlights of his life, Dr. Mebane answered immediately, “My courtship and marriage to Harriet would have to be first and the birth of our children second. In my medical career and practice, the discoveries in medicine such as chest surgery and coronary artery surgery would have to be highlights.” As Dr. Gilmer Mebane said previously when asked if being a doctor was all he thought it would be, “It was better than I ever thought it could be.”

Interviewer and writer – Marian Beavers

{Editor's Note: Dr. Mebane went on to meet our Savior on August 25, 2006}

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