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Dr. Jane Carswell: Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend
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This biography of a family doctor in Lenoir, North Carolina, is a story that begs to be read and studied as an example for all to follow. When Kenneth Roberts approached me about writing a biography of his late wife, Dr. Jane Carswell, my first question was, “Would she be okay with this?” “Probably not,” he replied. “But it’s too important not to share.” He was right. From all my discussions with her friends and colleagues, she was an extremely private person who preferred the spotlight to focus on others while she worked behind the scenes. She was the first to give others the credit, and yet her own story is too remarkable not to bring out into the open as an inspiration. She thought out solutions to society’s limitations. She stepped up when she saw a need and she lived her faith as she practiced her medicine. Much of this book was written by Jane herself. Not only was she a hard working physician, a dedicated humanitarian and a friend to many, she was a prolific writer who set her thinking in words that have lived well beyond her life. She was also an accomplished photographer. Included at the beginning of each chapter are pictures showcasing Jane’s gift in nature photography. Her story reveals a life of integrity and faith in action that can best be described with verbs rather than adjectives. She organized the first shelter for abused women in the state that became a model for many others that followed. She was instrumental in developing the first Hospice in western North Carolina and the first Hospice structure in the state that was independent of a hospital facility. In a time when few women received medical degrees, she courageously persevered against the odds to reach her dream of becoming a physician. Born in 1932, she grew up as a daughter of a Presbyterian minister in the Raeford, North Carolina area, attended Flora Macdonald College and the University of North Carolina before graduating from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Nationally recognized as the 1984 American Family Physician of the Year, she merged the medical with the practical. She was also recognized as the 1980 L. A. Dysart Citizen of the Year in Lenoir, by the Rotary Club with a scholarship in her name, and with honors from the University of North Carolina, St. Andrews University, and Duke University. Her cradle-to-the-grave practice extended beyond delivering babies and providing care for family members of all ages. She responded to society’s ills by advocating for her abused patients and those suffering from addiction. She fought against racial injustices. She pushed for a facility offering affordable medical treatment. Her fingerprints can be found in the background of numerous humanitarian organizations in Lenoir, although she preferred to remain out of the spotlight. Whether she was photographing wildflowers on a hike through the Appalachians, diagnosing an illness, or delivering a baby, Dr. Jane Carswell was well respected by all those fortunate enough to come upon her. Her late in life love story and marriage is a delightful part of the book that takes the reader through to her death in 2015.
Dr. Jane Carswell
Gretchen Griffith with Kenneth Roberts
This photograph by Spencer Ainsley of Dr. Carswell at her desk appeared in the October 1984 Lenoir News-Topic. The desk once belonged to her father, Rev. Arthur Dula Carswell and has remained in the family at her nephew’s home.
Not only was Jane Carswell known as a beloved physician, she was also widely known for her beautiful rose gardens. She took the cover photograph of a rose in her front yard.
The photograph of the Veteran’s Rose on the back cover was also taken by Dr. Carswell. It also graces the dividing pages between sections of the book, and the postage stamp photo from chapter one. Each chapter begins with one of her nature photographs.
Chapter 1 Heritage “The best thing parents can give is a Christian Heritage and a good education.” Jane Carswell in the Sandhills Citizen December 12, 1984
Chapter 2 Childhood “Mother and Daddy set an example for us to ever be mindful of the needs of others.” Jane Carswell, in a 2010 letter to nephew, David
Chapter 3 College “Those first two years at Flora Macdonald were a very steadying influence on my first experience away from home.” Jane Carswell in the Sandhills Citizen December 12, 1984
Chapter 4 University “I was raised in a family and a church that made me want to go into a helping profession.” Jane Carswell in the Raleigh News and Observer December 13, 1984
Chapter 5 Kentucky “Dear God, Thank you for giving us all skills and talents. Help us to use them in good ways so that other people will come to know Jesus and His love and how He wants us to live. Amen.” From “God Given Talents” Jane Carswell, 2001
Chapter 6 The Practice “Family medicine keeps one humble. Often you as a physician can do very little to help the patients, but they still give you their trust and share their joys and sorrows with you.” Jane Carswell, Family Practice Hi-Lights, Medical College of Virginia Student Family Practice Association Winter, 1984
Chapter 7 Interracial Relations “Protecting the dignity of people is what that was all about.” Jane Carswell, The Modesto (California) Bee October 28, 1984
Chapter 8 Shelter Home “He really hit her hard, right in front of me. But she wouldn’t press charges. She said she had to go home and live with him, that she didn’t have any place else to go.” Jane Carswell, Charlotte Observer December 9, 1984
Chapter 9 Caldwell House “You can’t cut patients off after office hours in a small town. They are people you go to church with, people you see in the grocery store. You have to be a part of the community.” Jane Carswell, The Sandhill Citizen and News Outlook December 12, 1984
Chapter 10 Caldwell Friends “Family physicians have a responsibility in the community. Because we are on the front line, the problems often come first into our offices.” Jane Carswell, speaking to the Delegates Assembly American Association of Physicians, AAFP Reporter, October 1984
Chapter 11 International Missions “The Guatemalan mothers with sick children showed the same anxiety and love that I see in parents in my office in North Carolina.” Jane Carswell, “Reflections on Guatemala Trip” February 4, 2002
Chapter 12 Helping Hands “The family physician is in a unique position to work for better health care for the community on a broad scale.” Jane Carswell, Family Practice Hi-Lights, Medical College of Virginia Student Family Practice Association Winter, 1984
Chapter 13 Cradle-to-Grave “I would love to give you back your good health but cannot. So I will give you my love, which you have always had. May you feel God’s arms around you and know the peace that only He can give.” Jane Carswell in a letter to a friend
Chapter 14 Friendship “With some folks I like to roam. With some I like to stay home.” From an undated poem by Jane Carswell Roberts
Chapter 15 Joy “To share my life is my request With you because I love you best.” From an undated poem by Jane Carswell Roberts
Chapter 16 Retirement “We are both feeling fine and are active in a variety of things which are so diverse that sometimes we feel like several different people.” Jane Carswell Roberts in her 2006 Christmas letter to friends
Gretchen Griffith with Kenneth Roberts at the book launch.
Author Gretchen Griffith with Rufus from the Happy Hands Puppeteers, Chapter 7.
Click the arrow above to learn more about Dr. Jane Carswell
Judges’ Collective Comments North Carolina Society of Historians 2018 Book Award Dr. Jane Carswell: Family Physician, Humanitarian, Friend This was such an easy book to read, with a great anticipation to be had with the turning of each page. We were privy to a well-researched text, some exceptional vintage black and white photographs, and beautiful color photographs that truly enhanced Dr. Carswell’s story. In this book, Griffith captured the ‘spirit’ of Jane Carswell, every aspect of it. We learned that not only was Dr. Carswell a determined young woman in her quest to serve the medical needs of mankind, but even in her youth was a loving, thoughtful, kind and generous person who put the needs of others before her own needs. She dedicated herself to a life of serving, a life fashioned like that of Jesus Christ…the ultimate servant. Dr. Carswell took care of people from “the cradle to the grave,” and that is what the book does, with emphasis on her medical career, interests, travels and family life. Early in her story the reader grows to love “Jane,” and realize this awesome lady’s contributions to her community and society. Those who knew her in life surely will miss her in death. Even though we did not know her in person, we shed tears when she died on 25 March, 2015, when her overworked heart stopped…although her memory didn’t.