Forsyth doctor honored for 43 years of service

FORSYTH — Julie Caldwell probably doesn’t remember the first time she met her family physician, Dr. Patton Smith.

How could she? She was just an infant.

Smith delivered Caldwell in January 1967 — one year after the doctor began practicing medicine at Monroe County Hospital. Although she now lives in Macon, Caldwell and her 17-year-old daughter, Murphy, continue to receive Smith’s care.

“He knows who we are,” Julie Caldwell said. “We’ve always gone to Dr. Smith.”

Those days, though, are about to end. Friday, Smith, 72, will retire from the practice.

“I’m gonna take it easy for a while,” he said Sunday, as more than 100 friends, family members, colleagues and patients gathered in front of the hospital to wish him farewell.

Smith was born in Barnesville, but his family moved to Forsyth while he was still a baby. About the time he was in sixth grade, his family moved to Macon. Neither of his parents practiced medicine — his dad was a Baptist minister — but sometime in high school, Smith decided he wanted to be a doctor.

“I just had the idea that I just wanted to help some people,” he said.

Smith attended college at Mercer University and received his degree in medicine from the Medical College of Georgia in 1962. After completing his internship and residency at the former Macon Hospital (now The Medical Center of Central Georgia), he spent two years in the Army, working at a hospital in Mexico.

“He’s a good man. He’s helped so many people here in Monroe County,” said Aretha Neal, a member of the hospital authority whose youngest daughter was delivered by Smith. “I was truly blessed to have him take care of me.”

In his 43 years at the Monroe County Hospital, Smith has delivered a lot of babies, including those of other doctors. That was probably the best part of his job, he said.

“I never did count up how many I delivered,” he said.

Along with life, though, Smith also saw death.

“It’s sad, especially when you take care of someone for years and years,” he said. “Those are some of the bad memories.”

Smith, a man with kind eyes and a friendly smile, also has seen the medical practice change. In some instances, not for the better.

While advances in medicine have helped patients, paperwork requirements and red tape from insurance companies have made practicing medicine not as much fun, Smith said.

Hurdles, though, will not keep Smith from helping his patients, Gloria Buffington said. Buffington’s husband, Bob, is a retired Atlanta police officer who in 1977 was shot in the line of duty.

Smith served as an advocate for Bob Buffington and battled with the city of Atlanta for him to receive proper care, Gloria Buffington said.

She approached Smith Sunday, giving him a hug and announcing that for the first time since her husband was injured, he was now pain-free.

“We can go to a new doctor,” Gloria Buffington said after the embrace, “But there will never be another Dr. Smith.”

To contact writer Jennifer Burk, call 744-4345.