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Doctor treats five generations

November 09, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

HANCOCK - Aspiring physician Frank Thomas' first contact with the town of Hancock was as a hitchhiker in the late 1940s, as he went back and forth between his home in Pennsylvania and Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Md., where he was in college.

As he walked the sidewalks looking for a ride, Thomas said the townspeople would smile at him and seemed friendly - like residents of his own hometown of Meyersdale, Pa.

Fate would bring him back to this small Washington County community in 1958 to start a family practice - a career that continued for 48 years until his retirement in June.

Through the years, Thomas has treated five generations of many families including the Mitchells. Wilbur "Bus" Mitchell, now 83, was one of Thomas' first patients.

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"I had to take physicals every year because I was a school bus driver," Mitchell said. "I'd walk into his office and he'd take care of me."

Thomas and his wife, Marion, three longtime staff members and several members of the Mitchell family rode on the Hancock Rotary Club float in September and October to mark nearly a half century of medical care.

"It was so neat riding in the parade," said Rosemarie Reynolds, one of Thomas' nine children and also a member of the staff. "Some people were yelling for "Doc" while others were yelling for "Bus."

Since the doctor's retirement, townspeople who have depended on the Thomas medical practice for so many years have been calling the office regularly to find out if a new doctor has been found, Reynolds said.

"War Memorial Hospital in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., bought the building and the services of the three staff members," Reynolds said. "They are looking at five prospective doctors now."

After earning his medical degree in Philadelphia and interning in Johnstown, Pa., Thomas and Marion - a nurse - began looking around for a place to hang his shingle.

They came to Hancock when a prospect in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., didn't pan out.

Their first office was across the street from the old primary school that now serves as Hancock Town Hall. The Thomas family lived in an apartment above the office.

"We lived there until 1966 when I was 3 years old," Reynolds said. The family, which then included seven children, moved to a bigger home. Two more children brought the total to nine.

The new house, which Frank and Marion still occupy, had lots of bedrooms. Reynolds said her mother designed the house and very wisely planned for a boys bathroom and a girls bathroom at opposite ends of the house.

The practice moved into the current office on Tonoloway Street on July 4, 1976.

"He did that so no patients would be inconvenienced," Reynolds said of the holiday move.

Family vacations were always planned to coincide with medical meetings so the whole family could go along, Reynolds said. Her dad would go to the meetings and join the family later for some fun.

"I did the whole Epcot Center once in just 45 minutes," Thomas said of a trip to Florida.

Since his retirement in June, Thomas has still been spending a fair amount of time at the office. "He was here recently mowing the grass," Smith said.

Reynolds, Smith and Bishop have worked for the practice for more than 20 years. Reynolds said she started going to the emergency room with her dad when she was very young.

One experience she said she'll never forget was on a day in 1984 when she was working with her father in the office and he suddenly sat down - something she said he never did when he was seeing patients.

"I called mom and told her that dad sat down," Reynolds said. "She came right up."

Despite his protests that he could see the last two patients that day, Thomas was whisked to a nearby hospital and then to George Washington University Hospital, where he underwent heart surgery.

From his hospital bed, Thomas continued answering patients' questions and even checking patient files that his wife brought with her when she visited.

In the early stages of retirement, Thomas said he is enjoying catching up on his reading, working in the yard and walking with his wife.

"And now I can go to Mass every morning," he said.

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