Beloved family physician retires

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By Toni Stauffer

Dr. Richard Valentine, M.D., has been caring for families in the Phenix City area for the past 40 years, since July 1978. Now at 74, he has decided it’s finally time to retire. Originally from Toronto, Canada, Dr. Valentine earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do until that last year at the University of Toronto,” said Valentine. “One of my friends was from the West Indies and he said let’s go into medicine. We can go down to the West Indies, drink rum, and play in the sun. I said that sounds pretty good, and so I applied [to the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica]. They accepted me. He applied, but they didn’t accept him. They accepted him in Canada.”

Dr. Valentine said he wound up being a professional, because he saw what happened to his uncle. “He was 64 and a half and worked for Northern Electric. At that time, you had to retire at 65. Before he retired, they got rid of him, so they didn’t have to pay him his retirement. I saw the devastation it did to his family. They had to lose their farm. I said that I was never going to work for anybody. Nobody’s going to be able to fire me.”

He said he looked at different professions and applied to schools for dentistry, chiropractic, and medicine—anything that was self-sufficient where he didn’t have to rely on a company.

“Company’s change hands. They bring in new managers, and if they don’t like you, out you go. That’s why I went into medicine. I just got accepted. I could have done anything else,” said Valentine.

After graduating from the University of the West Indies in 1974, Dr. Valentine undertook a family practice residency back in Toronto. He chose to become a specialist in family medicine, because he wanted to form relationships with people and treat everything.

“I saw all the different professions. When you do rotations, you do pediatrics, gynecology, psychology, orthopedics…everything. I narrowed it down to three: [radiology, pathology, and family medicine]. In family practice, you see everybody; in radiology, you see everybody, too, but you just see films of them,” Valentine said. “In pathology, you see everything in the body, but then you in the lab looking at pieces of them. I thought I just want to look at people, examine people, and have a relationship with them.”

In his last year of residency in Canada, Dr. Valentine said that the government as the newspapers were very anti-doctor, and that they were printing the names of the top 100 doctors in the province of Ontario who made the most money from the Ontario hospital insurance program. One of the doctors he worked for, an attending physical at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, was said to have made millions; however, because of the way billing worked, while his name was on everything, most of the profits went to the hospital, not the doctor.

“The newspapers knew that. Everybody knew that. It was really unfair reporting. I said ‘I don’t like the system here. It’s antagonistic,” said Dr. Valentine. He also said at that time that family doctors weren’t allowed to treat their sick patients, but had to send them to the hospital, like they do in England. He’d been trained to do everything but major surgery and felt if he’d stayed in Canada, it would have been a waste of his skills. He met a recruiter from the United States at his university and said before he knew it, they’d flown him down to Coburn, Va., — a one-doctor, coal-mining town in the mountains. “People were excellent to me there, but I’d be the only doctor and the nearest hospital was 19 miles away. It was really snowy in the winter and everything shut down,” said Valentine. He knew it would be difficult, and he was ready to commit; however, on the same weekend, he was flown to Phenix City.

“I met a bunch of doctors here, and they were just so funny. Everybody was just humorous people, especially Dr. James Mitchell. He had the driest sense of humor. I was rolling over laughing at this fella.”

They offered to pay for his travel and give him money to help him get started. He thought Phenix City would be a great place to settle down with his wife Lorna. They’ve been married for 50 years and have raised two sons, both who are doctors.

As for his plans now, he said he’s had to miss out on a lot with family and friends because of work. Now he just plans to have fun.

*Editor’s Note: At the end of the interview, CTV-BEAM’s Loretta Rose surprised Dr. Valentine, and in turn Dr. Valentine surprised Ms. Rose. To see what brought tears to her eyes, watch the interview on Channel 7’s YouTube channel.