Retiring physician

Retiring physician Dr. James Nicholson, 86, takes a break for an interview at his office in the Hunt Regional Medical Center.

One of the most important and illustrious medical careers in Hunt County history will be coming to an end on April 1 when Rockwall resident Dr. James Nicholson retires from his Greenville practice.

That’s no April Fools’ joke, even though some of Nicholson’s patients wish it were.  

“I’m still crying crocodile tears…. He has been my caretaker ever since he came to Greenville, and has also treated my kids and my grandkids,” said Mary Jane Vance, a longtime patient of Nicholson’s.

Retired Herald-Banner Editor Melva Geyer, who has been a patient of Nicholson’s since she came to Greenville in 1970, said she considers him “more than just a doctor; he’s a great friend and my confidante.”

After 56 years of practicing family medicine in Greenville and surrounding areas, Nicholson will close this chapter of his life.

As a young doctor, Nicholson (now 86) joined with three other co-founders to help form a Hunt County medical district that allowed a regional hospital (now known Hunt Regional Medical Center) to be built in 1967.

Nicholson admits, however, that he had “no intention whatsoever” of building his career in Greenville before he made his first visit.

In the early years of his career, a typical day in Nicholson’s professional life may have consisted of several home visits across the county. In addition to getting several calls a day regarding sick patients, he recalled that he’d occasionally be asked to settle arguments or break up fights.

Even after the hospital established an emergency center and phone number, Nicholson’s personal phone remained on many of his patients’ speed dials.

“For years, if people had a crisis, no matter what it was — could be a heart attack — they would call me directly and I’d go pick them up and take them myself. That’s been a huge change through the years,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson grew up in South Dallas and was the first member of his family to graduate from high school. After five major Korean War campaigns in the Marines, he said he realized what life is really all about.

He remembered a dream he had as a child to become like the country doctor with the black bag who had once visited his home to treat him for malaria.

When he told all of his Marine buddies he was going to pursue a medical career, he said that they were stunned and “laughed themselves to death.”

Nicholson admits that he didn’t at the time fit the mold of a typical boy who was going to become a doctor. He said he wasn’t a great student until he developed his passion for becoming an MD.

“The most important thing is to follow your dream and to be whatever you dreamed of being,” he said.

Nicholson eventually attended the University of North Texas, Southwestern Medical School and Baylor Medical Center. Upon graduation, he had originally committed to begin his career in the small coastal community of Coos Bay, Ore.

But after visiting Greenville for the first time to have dinner with Dr. John Vallancey and his wife, Nicholson said he and his wife Wanda felt so comfortable they decided they wanted to call Greenville their home, too.

He started practicing medicine as a true general practitioner and did just about everything, including delivering babies. There have been several times Dr. Nicholson has spanned two generations by delivering the child of a woman he delivered as a child.

He recalled times that he would stay at the hospital to hold a new mother’s baby through the night so that she could get some rest.

There were many nights when the young doctor made do with very little sleep.

“Didn’t need it.” Nicholson said. “I was a Marine, ya know.”

There were also many occasions when he would treat patients he knew would be unable to pay him.

“I am so proud to have had a small part of knowing him and so amazed at all that he has accomplished,” Vance said. Geyer believes that Nicholson “has always had the city’s best interest in his heart.”

 “It was my honor,” Nicholson said. “People keep saying, ‘we want to honor you,’ but my patients … they honored me every minute of their lives. The honor was having people trust me.”

When asked about what he’s going to do next, he said the first thing that he’s going to do is “take a deep breath,” and then write a little, read a lot, hunt, fish and spend time with his four daughters and grandchildren.

Though Nicholson will be officially hanging up his crimson stethoscope, he added that he considers his patients “family,” and that he isn’t going to stop checking in on them.

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