ROSEBORO — Sampson Regional Medical Center or the old Sampson Memorial Hospital was not the first hospital in Sampson County. While SRMC opened in 1950 and has continued to serve the citizens of the county since, it was Dr. J. Street Brewer and Dr. W. Plato Starling who opened a clinic in 1937 that would become the first hospital to serve the county.
The Brewer-Starling Clinic closed with Brewer’s retirement in 1974. The number of babies that have been born at the clinic are too many to total but thousands would be an accurate start. There are many people who are still living in Sampson and surrounding counties that were delivered by Brewer or Starling.
Brewer’s son, J. Street Brewer Jr., recalled his dad telling of the first baby or rather babies he delivered. “The first my dad ever delivered were triplets. They were born to an African-American woman near Mintz Baptist Church. He got a fast start on the number of babies he delivered,” stated the son.
Brewer grew up near Roseboro and attended Wake Forest College (University today) then attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. After he finished medical school, the doctor returned home to practice. He married Lena Walker of Burgaw and had two children, one son and one daughter. Brewer’s father, William Street Brewer, was Sampson County’s second superintendent of schools.
“Dad was very committed to medicine. He served as president of the North Carolina Medical Society and was also the Chief of Staff at Sampson Memorial for many years,” expressed the younger Brewer.
Starling also grew up in the Roseboro area. After graduating from Roseboro High School, he went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, then on to medical school at the College of Virgina. He completed his residency at Princeton Hospital in Princeton, N.J. As did Brewer, Starling returned home to Roseboro to begin his practice and teamed up with Brewer to establish the clinic bearing their names.
A biography listed in the “The Heritage of Sampson County, North Carolina 1974-1984, describes Starling as an”old-time country doctor.” The book further states that the country doctor not only assisted his patients medically, he also would help out financially and materially if the need arose. The volume also describes Starling’s bedside manner as infectious and his humor unmatched. Starling married Flossie Kathleen Cogdell and they had three daughters, Dorothy S. Faison, who lives here in Clinton, Margaret Rose S. Watkins living in Kill Devil Hills and Audrey Lee S. Kerr that lives in Raleigh.
The clinic/hospital had multiple rooms for overnight patients. It was staffed day and night by trained nurses and it boasted an operating/delivery room, examination rooms and what was most likely the first X-ray room in the county.
Clinton attorney Billie Poole’s mother, Ada Poole, was one of the nurses at the clinic. The attorney shared that his mother was trained to use the X-ray machine. Other nurses known to have worked at the clinic include Sally Pope, Mrs. Dallas Tew, Mrs. Kenneth Bryan, Lena Sutton and Mrs. Noah Howell.
Dorothy Faison told of one of the many experiences she had as a young girl helping out at the clinic.
“I can remember helping to hold a young boy one day while they X-rayed his leg. He had broken it but I don’t remember how. But they fixed him up,” recalled Faison.
While Faison said she there were a lot of babies born at the clinic, they also did tonsillectomies and worked on people suffering heart attacks and injuries.
“I remember Mrs. Ada Poole. She was so organized and was daddy’s and Dr. Brewer’s right arm. It was a busy place. But they did not just keep clinic hours. Daddy and Dr. Brewer would come to the clinic at all hours of the night if someone called, and they also kept regular hours for home visits. We would spend many nights waiting dinner on him,” noted Faison.
Poole shared that his mother worked along with the doctors and helped keep the clinic operating.
“Mother graduated from John Hopkins Nursing School and would go right along with Dr. Brewer to make home visits. As I remember the clinic, it had about eight to 10 beds. They served a lot of people. I even had my tonsils out there. J. Street Jr. and I were good friends and we ended up owning the building after his dad passed away. We found some of the old accounting books and found where it cost $2 for having my tonsils removed. The doctors also did not always get paid in cash. Oftentimes people would pay them with chickens or a ham. Times were tough and people did what they could,” cited Poole.
J. Street Jr. stated that his dad was very instrumental in getting a hospital for the county. “When the powers that be in the county decided it was time to build a hospital, they got in touch with my dad and Dr. Starling. They helped them settle on the location of the old county fair grounds where SRMC is today. Many others wanted the hospital to be out where Coharie Country Club is now. It was my dad that convinced Dr. Walt Kitchin to come to Sampson Memorial as its first general surgeon and not long after that he helped to get Dr. Henry Carr to come to Clinton,” expressed the doctor’s son.
The Brewer-Starling Clinic served citizens from western Sampson up to Dunn, down to Elizabethtown and west to Vander, Stedman and Cedar Creek. Dr. Amos Johnson served the citizens of Southern Sampson from his Garland office and the Clinton doctors served Clinton proper and the citizens in Newton Grove and east to Duplin County. But the Brewer-Starling Clinic was the place to go to have babies and it was a location where people injured in accidents would go to get sewn up.
Brewer served for a total of 55 years before his retirement and Starling had to retire due to failing health in 1964.