2014-04-09 / Front Page

Community Feature

Dr. Roper overcame difficult odds to become a physician, Bullard icon

Dr. Marjorie Ferrell Roper at the Bullard History Museum on March 15. 
PHOTO BY ANTHONY VENCE Dr. Marjorie Ferrell Roper at the Bullard History Museum on March 15. PHOTO BY ANTHONY VENCE Dr. Marjorie Ferrell Roper has spent the majority of her life in Bullard and through the years has collected items and memories of her experience as a physician.

Born in Bullard on June 7, 1921, she was the first child of Oran and Hattie Ferrell. As a child, she was actively involved in school and one of her favorite pastimes was riding bicycles with her brother.

“My brother and I, we just had the run of the whole town,” she said.

In high school, she excelled so much that the school allowed her to skip a grade and she graduated at age 15. After graduating, she had decided to pursue a career in medicine and started taking classes at Tyler Junior College in the fall.

Her father owned a drugstore in Bullard and she shadowed Dr. Claude Brightwell Rather, who had set up an office at the rear of the drugstore.

“When I was 12, he (Rather) took me under his wing,” she said.

She never took science classes in high school, so she struggled at first while taking chemistry and biology at TJC.

“When I went to Tyler Junior College, it was kind of an awakening,” she said. “I was lost there for about the first month.”

As she continued her studies, she began to improve her academics and her chemistry and biology professor at TJC encouraged her to pursue a career in medicine.

At age 18, she transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. She took a bus from Bullard to Austin and recalled being nervous during the trip since it was her first time away from home.

During her time in Austin, she faced many challenges as a woman pursuing a career dominated by men. She recalled her chemistry professor questioning why she wanted to go to medical school and recommend she marry a doctor. She responded by saying, “I don’t want to marry a doctor. I want to be the doctor.”

She would go on to graduate summa cum laude and was accepted into medical school at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). At UTMB, she was one of three women in a medical school of 100 students.

After graduating from medical school, she took an internship at Parkland Hospital in Dallas.

The internships at Parkland Hospital were mostly reserved for men at that time. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many of the men who would normally take these positions were sent abroad to serve in the armed services for World War II.

Parkland accepted Marjorie as an intern, but because they didn’t have living arrangements for women at the time, she was forced to live in a patient room in the hospital.

“It was kind of a hard start because they didn’t want me there because they’d rather have a man,” she said.

Her first assignment at Parkland Hospital was male urology, which was her first experience working with male patients. She recalled how Scott Kelly, a retired navy nurse, acted as her mentor and helped her get through a challenging experience.

“He showed me how to do some things I’d never done before,” she said. “I’ll always love him.”

Near the end of her internship, her high school sweetheart, Leonard Roper, came back home after spending two years in Europe serving in the Air Corps. Leonard and Marjorie decided to get married during Leonard’s four weeks off for rest and recuperation in 1944.

Marjorie recalls first meeting Leonard, who was four years older than her, in Bullard.

“When I was 13, I told him I was 15,” she said. “And then after when I told him, he said I’ll always think you’re two years older.”

Following the wedding, Marjorie took residency at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Nine months after the wedding, they had their first child, Daniel.

During the next two years, the young couple raised Daniel and moved several times as Marjorie worked as a physician. They spent time in Longview, Austin and Biloxi, Miss. and after a while, Marjorie became homesick and told Leonard she wanted to move back to Bullard.

“I just wanted to go home so bad, and he said if that’s what you want to do then we’ll go home,” she said.

In 1947 she returned to her hometown to continue her work as a physician. Her office was located in the back of her father’s drugstore.

Shortly after she began her practice in Bullard, the doctor working in Troup retired. That meant Marjorie would be the doctor for Troup, Whitehouse, Flint and Bullard.

“I made a lot of house calls,” she said. “I was really busy.”

With Marjorie staying busy with her practice and Leonard working as a high school principal and coach, Marjorie’s mother helped raise Daniel.

“If it hadn’t been for her I couldn’t have done it at all,” she said.

During the next few years, Marjorie and Leonard had three more children, Thomas, Richard and Harriet. Of their four children, only Daniel doesn’t live in Bullard today.

In 1950, Marjorie’s brother, Oran, joined her practice and her father extended the offices in the back of the drugstore. Her brother worked with her for the next nine years before leaving to start an obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) practice.

She worked as a physician in the back of her father’s drugstore for 60 years before her retirement from full-time medicine in 2007.

After her retirement she began developing her plan to open a museum in the drugstore where she spent so many years learning medicine as a child and working as a physician as an adult.

The Bullard History Museum opened on Nov. 3, 2013 during the Red, White & Blue Festival. The museum features local memorabilia and collections of Dr. Roper, including a display of the old pharmacy and her old office. Other items featured in the museum include military memorabilia and historical photographs.

She lives in the same home she grew up in, located in the heart of Bullard. You can visit Dr. Roper on Fridays at the Bullard History Museum where she and a group of volunteers enrich visitors with stories of the Bullard’s history.

A detailed account of Dr. Roper’s experiences is captured in the book, “Dr. Margie; Country Physician,” written by her son, Dan Roper. More information on the Bullard History Museum can be found at www.bullardhistory.net.

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