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Remembering Dr. Marjorie Ferrell Roper, June 7, 1921-January 3, 2018 (January 2018)

Remembering Dr. Marjorie Ferrell Roper (June 7, 1921- January 3, 2018)

By Deborah Burkett, Cherokee County Historical Commission

When someone passes away, it's often said, "They touched so many lives, made a real difference…"

These words definitely fit Dr. Marjorie Ferrell Roper to a 'T.'

Given her long and storied life, I acknowledge I'm just one of many who grieve her passing. And like many, I have personal stories to tell about the impact she made.

I've known Dr. Marjorie since the 1950s when, seemingly every summer, she would administer a poison ivy shot in my backside. I was not a willing patient.

In the last five years, we reconnected when she kindly consented to interviews for a book I was writing.

The following information and quotes by Dr. Roper are taken from those interviews.

Marjorie Ferrell was a trail blazer. She completed college in just three years and was one of only three women accepted into the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, class of 1943.

According to Dr. Roper, "To be admitted to medical school prior to 1950 you had to be interviewed and it wasn't easy for women…Today women applicants would call their lawyers if during an interview they were accused of '...merely wanting to prowl for a husband among a captive group of young doctors'…"

Dr. Roper's "spunk" became evident as she told a story of fellow student, Denton Cooley, the future famed heart transplant surgeon.

In later years when their paths would cross she'd remind him he was her lowly classmate in medical school. This was because she had transferred to UTMB after her first year at University of Texas while Cooley chose to stay on in Austin to play basketball.

Doctor "Margie", as she was called by her patients, opened her own medical practice in the family drug store. She officially retired in 2006, but her commitment to the Hippocratic Oath continued. The recently dedicated Bullard Mission House and Clinic illustrates her devotion to those in need.

I reconnected with Dr. Roper in 2013 at the Bullard Public Library. I told her I was Willie and Viola Langston's oldest granddaughter. She grabbed my arm, squeezed my hand and seemed very happy to see me. Out of the blue she exclaimed, "We never said we were sorry, never apologized to your grandfather for wrecking his car!" Surely I didn't hear her correctly.

She explained, "Our tennis team wanted to practice on a real court and there was one at Oak Grove School. Simmie Akins, a senior, borrowed our tennis coach's car, a Model A…your grandfather, Willie Langston, was that coach…On the way back to Bullard, Simmie was acting a fool, showing off, was weaving back and forth in the road, hit a sand bed and before we knew it the car had rolled three times."

"Several of us were badly hurt---my scalp was scraped back, had blood running down my face. The Model A was totaled. For a long time I wore a hat to hide the scar where my head was shaved. Simmie broke his back and was never the same. Sadly, he died a year or so later…"

In an attached photo with her brother Buddy, Marjorie is seen wearing the hat which hid her scar.

The wreck in the Model A would still be relevant years later. Dr. Roper shared, "Not too long ago I had to go to the doctor. They did x-rays, and asked when I had brain surgery. Never, I said. What he saw in the x-ray were little pieces of rock and gravel still imbedded in my scalp from the accident in your grandfather's car."

Too many to list, Roper's accomplishments include being selected as Bullard's "Tomato Princess" for the annual Jacksonville Tomato Festival during the Great Depression and voted Southern Baptist Mother of the Year in 1963.

Marjorie was influenced by many during her life. By all accounts, her mother was a strong role model, her father patient and highly intelligent. She shared, "He taught me more Latin than I ever learned in school…He was just 21 when he got his Pharmacy degree at Northwestern." Dr. Rather, a Bullard physician, was a mentor, instrumental in her love of and desire to pursue medicine.

Yes, Marjorie Ferrell Roper was one of a kind. From the very beginning, she followed her dreams and all along the way insisted on incorporating a personal touch in everything she did. Given the current times in which we live, it's highly unlikely we'll see her ilk again.

An attached photo of Dr. Roper was taken by Deborah Burkett (2014) at the Bullard Museum which was established by Roper. Another photo of Dr. Roper with a young patient was taken in the 1950s.

(For more about Dr. Roper see Deborah Burkett's Spunky Women 1830s - 1950s East Texas Piney Woods, Spirited Individuals Who Made a Difference. (2016)).

Photo of Dr. Roper was taken by Deborah Burkett (2014) at the Bullard Museum which was established by Roper.

Dr. Roper with a young patient, 1950s

Photo with her brother Buddy; Marjorie is seen wearing the hat which hid her scar.