By James A. Marples
It isn’t every day that an artist does an obituary for a scientist. But, that is exactly what happened in 1935 when artist Adolph Beilin wrote a tribute in a now-defunct journal of the American Medical Association (named “Hygeia”) to eulogize Theobald Smith who died just a year earlier.
Smith’s name might not sound familiar, yet he was head-and-shoulders above his peers. It was Theobald Smith who was the pioneering epidemiologist, bacteriologist, pathologist and professor who is best remembered for his study of the origin and spread of “Texas cattle fever” (due to ticks spreading the disease). The annual losses in the South prior to 1906 amounted to $130 million. Imagine what that would be like in today’s money. Thanks to Theobald Smith, these losses are almost nearly eradicated.
He also discovered a species of salmonella and was a pioneer in discovering the links of vitamins to good health in both animals and humans. He was called a “great servant of humanity,” and received high honors by the British Royal Society. If America faces another pandemic spread by bacteria, viruses, wind, water, mosquito, tick, pollen or other mode of transmission, I wish we could get a doctor like Dr. Theobald Smith, not a bureaucrat, but a hands-on physician whom people could really count on.
There was a contemporary of Dr. Theobald Smith: He was Dr. John R. Brinkley of Milford, Kansas (later Del Rio, Texas): Doctor John R. Brinkley. Dr. Brinkley was called both a genius and a quack for promoting his goat-gland-therapy to rejuvenate impotent men back in the 1920s and 1930s. Dr. Brinkley died in 1942, exactly 80 years ago this year. He ran for Governor several times, and in the 1930 election, as a write-in candidate, both political parties admitted years afterward that many votes intended for Brinkley had been disqualified and if those had been counted Brinkley would have been Kansas’s Governor. Dr. Brinkley was a member of the Masonic Lodge and the Ft. Scott, Kansas, Scottish Rite. He was a Shriner in Mirza Shrine in Pittsburg, Kansas. Tourists would be interested in the many things Dr Brinkley did do right. He established the pioneer radio station K.F.K.B. (Kansas First Kansas Best). With that medium of radio, he employed many musical talents, answered questions from listeners on his “Medical Question Box”. Additionally, Dr Brinkley invited professors from the Kansas Ag College (now Kansas State University) to orally teach courses via the radio. He later moved his practice to Texas in the 1940’s. During “Tourism Week”, I believe Brinkley’s memory in Texas should be exploited for the best possible results. It would educate visitors and keep the memory alive of skilled (albeit eccentric) physician who died 80 years ago. He is buried in Memphis, Tennessee. I have visited his grave. The Brinkley legacy can still be used in positive ways. No goats needed.