At his funeral service Monday, longtime friend Larry Meeks asked the packed pews questions about Dr. Clyde E. Gibson.
“I asked six different questions and if any of these pertain to you to stand,” he said. “I asked who has been a patient of Dr. Clyde’s? Who was delivered by him? Who had children delivered by him? Who participated with him in a Rotary event? Who went on a hunting trip with him? Who went on a fishing trip with him? When I got through I guarantee 95 percent were standing. That’s what he meant to this town.”
His friends and family remember the 84-year-old man who died July 9 as being as much a part of Bartow as anyone who lived here. They remembered him as perhaps the finest doctor in town.
In his obituary it said, “Dr. Gibson was proud to be the only physician born in Bartow, educated in Bartow, and dedicated to serving his entire career in Bartow.”
He actually spent some time away from Bartow, as he was educated at Emory University and served in the Korean War.
“A friend of mine brought that up, telling us he was the only person that fits that bill,” his son Clyde Allen Gibson said.
His son added it was really quite something, because in his father’s heyday of practicing medicine, Bartow was full of extremely talented doctors who appeared to “love being doctors.” However, through the stories he had heard, his father was at the top.
“He had the prettiest stitch in town,” Clyde Allen said. He recalled his father saying when he was done with his patient it would look like nothing ever happened.
“Frank Phillips, the man who used to run the Wilson Drug Store, told me years ago when he retired, that all the doctors in Bartow would go to him,” Meeks said. “He was the go-to man.”
Like others, Dr. Thomas McMicken remembers Dr. Clyde as “a very versatile individual and compassionate with patients. He said he couldn’t imagine having a partner who was any better than him.
His dedication to his job showed in earlier years when a patient suffered a heart attack and there were no units to monitor the patient.
“In those days when a person was admitted to the hospital with a heart attack, we’d hook them up and sit with him until they improved. He’d go out at night … he’d go out and make house calls,” McMicken said.
Saving people was a passion for Dr. Clyde, as he was commonly known. Much of it was in Bartow, but he also did it in other countries. It also didn’t matter if that life was a person’s or an animal’s.
“If a dog got cut up badly by a hog, he’d sew up that dog as quickly as he would for you or me,” Clyde Allen said. “He was always looking for something to do as a doctor.”
Another example of that is what he did after visiting the Amazon. After he retired, he and another friend, Phil Marstellar, established a free clinic in the Amazon jungle. Along with his late wife, Ann, they would spend months there treating people for free.
“Some of these natives had probably never seen a doctor,” said Damian Lawrence.
Lawrence added: “There are a lot of kids there named Clyde and Ann.”
Clyde Allen recalled how one time in the Amazon while fishing with friends, an angler got critically wounded in the head.
“He essentially did surgery on him in the boat,” Clyde Allen said. “He was always a doctor. I’ve seen him sew up people in deer camps. Surgery was like dinner theater, you could watch surgery as you had lunch.”
Besides being such a dedicated doctor, Dr. Clyde had plenty of pastimes and invited many to accompany him. He visited at least 115 countries in his life. He spent much time hunting and fishing and invited many people with him to enjoy seeing the world. Much of what he saw he carried with him the rest of his life.
“He was brilliant,” Meeks said. “He was one of the smartest people in world.” Meeks also emphasized Dr. Clyde’s humbleness.
“He never publicized anything,” Meeks added.
One program he started when he was in the Rotary Club was a scholarship program. Each year the club awarded a $1,000 scholarship to a local student. In many instances there were many students who qualified and who to pick posed a problem.
“If there were kids there that were equal and that were qualified (and did not earn the scholarship), he would write them a personal check.”
He said Dr. Clyde was also like that with his nurses.
“If a nurse’s husband died, he’d put their kids through college,” Meeks said.
“The biggest thing about him to me, personally, was he was a compassionate, well-hearted man. He never bragged or flaunted his money, but he could do anything he wanted to do,” Meeks said.
One other thing he started was testing for physicals for high school athletes for free. It was started by his office — which was he and Dr. Tom McMicken — but it soon involved many physicians in town.
“I remember one time when we used to do physicals for the football team we had red T-shirts that said ‘G&M Body Shop,’” McMicken recalled.
He said the physicals started with just football players but after a few years of doing it turned into all the boys playing sports one day and then all the girls the next. With the help of many physicians it only took “a couple of hours to do it.”
The two practiced together from 1967-2000.
To further show his dedication to Bartow, consider what he accomplished.
In addition to operating his own medical practice, Gibson acted as Polk County coroner, served on the Board of Directors for the Bartow Memorial Hospital, provided free sports physicals for Bartow High School athletes during his years of practice — for this he was made an honorary letterman.
He was in the Bartow Rotary Club For more than 50 years and served as president and member of the Board of Directors. He was a multiple Paul Harris Fellow for his contributions to the Bartow Rotary Foundation and was the Governor’s Representative for District 695. He was a lifetime honorary member of the Florida Sheriff’s Association which also recognized him as a Builder for the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches. He was a volunteer firefighter in Bartow, where he served as the doctor for more than 40 years. He funded the Gibson Reading Room at the Bartow Public Library. Also, he was inducted into the Bartow High School Hall of Fame to honor this lifetime of service. He graduated from the Summerlin Institute in 1947.
The advanced education and knowledge didn’t get in his way of coming across as an everyday person. He would talk to anyone. He’d speak with the person until a common interest was found, or something he could relate to was found (which was never hard) and strike up a conversation and make friends with that person.
Meeks recalls one instance of being in a boat with Dr. Clyde where the engine caught fire. He said Dr. Clyde made a call to a friend who told him how to repair the engine enough to get the boat running.
“We took out the duct tape,” and fixed the engine. Instead of going back to shore, they stayed on the water.
“He said we can make it out here, but let’s stay and fish,” he recalled.