Many people in Clovis still remember Dr. George Prothro. Even though he lives in Tulsa, Okla., now, some of us still correspond with him. He is retired, but still very active in medical projects.
Prothro grew up in Clovis, coming with his family from Arkansas when he was a year old in 1921. His parents were Henry and Norma Prothro.
“I decided to become a physician at an early age,” he said. “When I was 7 or 8 I saw a movie, I don’t remember the name of it, but this young doctor saved the life of his mother and that impressed me. I decided I wanted to be a physician and never wavered, although there were many times over the coming years in which I wondered how I was going to accomplish it financially and other ways.”
Prothro attended the University of New Mexico after his first two years at Eastern New Mexico University.
“At that time we didn’t have a medical school in New Mexico so I finally became enrolled at Washington University at St. Louis.” Prothro entered the medical school there in 1942.
“It was during the war so the medical school was on the trimester basis. We went year round with basically no holidays. I was in the Navy reserves when I started. I had enough money to pay for the first year’s tuition that, as I recall, was $750 a year. The V-12 program came along and I am indebted to the Navy for saving my medical school education.”
Prothro graduated in 1945, and following a brief internship in Nebraska, he reported to active duty at the San Diego Naval Hospital and then the Seabee base at Port Hueneme, Calif.
“The Navy then assigned me to the Veterans Hospital in Augusta, Ga. They declared me a psychiatrist and I spent a year as such. At first I was upset about being assigned as a psychiatrist but looking back it was one of the best experiences I ever had.”
He returned to New Mexico in 1948 where he limited his practice to pediatrics.
“I had subsequently taken quite a few courses at Denver Children’s Hospital and the University of Texas pediatric department. I practiced pediatrics for 17 years in Clovis and loved every minute of it. At that time I was the only pediatrician within about 200 miles and it was just overwhelming working days and nights so I decided to try something else.”
His transition to public health was easy. “I think pediatrics is as close to public health as any specialty because we are concerned with prevention of diseases in children. I originally became the public health officer for a New Mexico four-county district. After about a year I took formal public health training at the University of North Carolina College of Public Health, one of the nation’s top public health schools.”
After he returned to New Mexico, the assistant director of the state health department told him that Tulsa was seeking a public health director. Prothro started work as the director of the Tulsa City-County Health Department in 1968. He initiated many new changes in the practice of medicine and public health.
“Food protection and the environment were our major concerns. In the 20th century we extended life expectancy about 30 years and essentially all of that was due to public health programs such as immunizations and environmental measures. Many of our diseases such as smallpox, measles, polio, etc., were controlled through prevention.”
After he retired he began teaching courses in all three medical schools in Tulsa.
Prothro said his philosophy about the future of medicine could probably be summed up by a Chinese word. “Someone told me that the Chinese word for crisis means danger and opportunity. There are a lot of risks in the future but there are also wonderful opportunities in medicine.”
(Prothro’s son, George Prothro II, is a teacher at Clovis Community College.)
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.