When Atlanta, Georgia physician Leila Denmark retired in 2001 she was 103 years old, and was perhaps the oldest U.S. doctor to have ever run a medical practice, a medical practice of over 70 years. She is widely believed to have been Georgia’s first female pediatrician.
According to her daughter Mary Denmark Hutcherson, the only reason Leila retired at 103 was her eyesight was beginning to fail. Leila’s mind was still sharp as can be. And Leila continued to informally diagnose and render medical advice to her patients until she was 110.
Born on February 1st, 1898, Leila passed away on April 1st, 2012 at the age of 114, the world’s 4th oldest person when she died.
Leila, the 3rd of 12 children grew up on a Georgia farm, where she loved animals and helped to heal them. In 1922, at a time when few women went to college, Leila graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree from Georgia Tift College and became a high school science teacher.
But her heart called for her to do more. In 1924, Leila did something rare for women of that time. She got into medical school, enrolling at the Medical College of Georgia, the only woman among 52 medical students.
After graduating in 1928, Leila, a white woman living in deeply segregated Georgia, was racially color blind and began her internship in segregated black wards of Atlanta’s Grady Hospital. Later, she became the first intern of what is today, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.
In the meantime, three days after graduating from medical school, Leila married John Eustace Denmark, a banker who had been a childhood classmate. That marriage would last 63 years until John’s passing in 1991 when Leila was 93.
The couple had their only child in 1930, when Leila gave birth to their daughter Mary. And to be actively involved in raising Mary, Leila moved her medical practice into their Atlanta home.
For Leila always told parents, if they would just love and devote themselves to their children, not only would their lives be far happier, there would be no need for prisons.
Over the years, Leila ran a hands-on home based medical practice.
When parents would arrive with Leila’s little patients, there was no receptionist or nurse to greet them. They would simply sign in and unless it was an emergency, they would wait their turn for Leila to see their child. And the fee was often just $10.
Leila never turned any patients away, regardless of ability to pay welcoming charity patients and those from the public health department as well.
Whether it was delivering babies or caring for them one generation to the next, Leila loved what she did.
“You keep on doing what you do best, as long as you can,” Leila told Atlanta’s Journal-Constitution in 2006, five years after her retirement. “I enjoyed every minute of it for more than 70 years. If I could live it over again, I’d do exactly the same thing and marry the same man.” *
Leila is survived by her daughter Mary, two grandsons, Dr. James D. Hutcherson of Evergreen, Colorado and Steve Hutcherson of Atlanta and two great-grandchildren. But she is also survived by many of the thousands of children she cared for and by their children and children’s children. *
When asked what she attributed her longevity to, Leila said it was drinking only water, eating no refined sugars and enjoying healthy meals, including fruits and vegetables, an excellent example for each of us to follow.
But I believe the most important part of her longevity was doing what she loved, which was being of service, as she helped to heal others.