In 1947, Dr. Marjorie Roper opened her office at the back of the family business, O.L. Ferrell Drug Store, in Bullard, Texas. Sixty years later, the doctor is still in, treating generations of patients as if they were family.
“If you love what you’re doing, it’s not hard on you,” says Dr. Roper, 86, from her office in the former drug store, now the Ferrell-Roper Clinic.
Sitting on an old wooden milking stool, she questions patient Opal Snipes about her dizzy spells. Dr. Roper rests a gentle hand on Snipes’ arm and asks, “Did you go to church yesterday?” She knows that her longtime friend attends faithfully if she’s up to it.
Snipes, 83, sighs. “No. I didn’t feel like it.”
After an examination, Dr. Roper adjusts Snipes’ blood-pressure medicine and prescribes a game of chicken foot, a dominoes get-together that the doctor hosts each month at her home for about a dozen 80-something women.
Before leaving, Snipes hugs the doctor and tells her she loves her.
“I love you, too,” Dr. Roper says. “You know I do.”
The doctor’s love for medicine developed as a child growing up in the drugstore and watching her father, called “Doc” by the locals, fill prescriptions and suggest tonics to help ease the suffering of the townspeople. At age 12, Marjorie began making house calls with the town doctor after he suffered a stroke that impaired the use of his hands.
“The doctor would stay up at the drugstore reading Western magazines until he got a call,” Dr. Roper says. “I’d go with him and he’d let me help suture.” One of her first patients had cut the full length of his leg in a wagon accident and she stitched the wound, which healed perfectly. After earning her medical degree from the University of Texas in Galveston in 1943, Dr. Roper returned to Bullard (pop. 1,150) and began delivering babies and treating every ailment imaginable. Many patients couldn’t afford the $2 visit and paid with a bushel of sweet potatoes or fresh garden peas.
“They’re really good country people,” Dr. Roper says about her patients. She still doctors people who can’t afford to pay and continues to make house calls, if needed, in her ’93 Chevrolet.
“Oh, listen, she was a lifesaver then and still is,” says patient Dollie Taylor, 80, who will never forget a call from the good doctor one Sunday morning 50 years ago when her 10-year-old daughter, Diane, had severe abdominal pain.
“Dr. Roper told me to keep an eye on her and to call back at a certain time,” Taylor says. “I thought maybe Diane had eaten something bad and I was dragging my feet. Next thing I knew, Dr. Roper showed up at my door.”
Within an hour, her daughter was in surgery for an emergency appendectomy.
In the early years of Dr. Roper’s practice, miracle drugs were few. “We had sulfa drugs and didn’t get penicillin until after World War II,” she says. “I doctored symptomatically and with prayer.”
Today, the doctor dispenses the latest medications and works with her daughter-in-law and nurse practitioner, Linda Roper, 56. Still, much about the practice hasn’t changed. While the pharmacy closed three years ago and the soda fountain fizzled in May, the drugstore’s original fixtures remain. Floor-to-ceiling cabinets with pigeonholes and drawers contain prescriptions, written in graceful script of the 1920s and filled by Dr. Roper’s father.
The doctor’s office, with knotty-pine paneled walls and a worn wooden desk, is a gallery of family photos, including her four children. Dan, an ophthalmologist, lives in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. The other three—Harriet Page, a special-education teacher; Richard, retired from the U.S. Air Force; and Tom, a corporate pilot—live in Bullard. A granddaughter, Amy McKeethan, 36, works as her office manager.
“Grandma’s patients are just like her family,” McKeethan says.
Dr. Roper gives her a squeeze and nods in agreement as she continues down the narrow hallway—the same path she’s walked for six decades—to see the next patie