Dr. Rush Shull
In the final stanza of the famous Cliffside poem, written in 1919, the author mentions the town’s doctors.
Well, I guess I’ll close my story,
But there’s more that could be said
‘Bout our doctors and our nurses
Who come when we’re sick in bed,
Dr. Shull and Dr. Allhands
Are as proud as they can be,
If you doubt what I have told you,
All I say is “come and see.”
Who was Dr. Shull?
In 1886, Joseph Rush Shull, son of a tinsmith, was born near Newton, N. C., in Catawba County. When he was between the ages of nine and 13, his family lived in Lincolnton. At that time, attending Miss Kate Shipp’s School in Lincolnton was Eula Mae Haynes, a young girl from Henrietta, the daughter of textile tycoon Raleigh R. Haynes. Rush and Eula became acquainted when they were both members of the choir at the Episcopal church.
When he was 14 Rush’s family moved to Charlotte, where Rush helped out the family finances by working at the Belk’s store. Soon they moved to Concord where he went to high school and clerked at a local hotel. Living at the hotel was Dr. J. O. Walker whose friendship and encouragement put Rush on the road to an extraordinary career in medicine. Despite his duties at the hotel, holding a part time job at the Concord Tribune and sometimes going on calls with Dr. Walker, Rush managed to graduate with honors from Concord High School.
All the while, Rush and Eula maintained their friendship by letter.
In the fall of 1904 Rush entered the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Eula Mae, who had spent three years at Presbyterian College in Charlotte, was now at taking a special course at Meredith College in Raleigh.) Rush worked at many jobs—as a waiter, salesman, janitor—to pay for his board and tuition. At the beginning of his third year at Carolina, in 1906, he entered the medical school. Upon receiving the University’s medical certificate in 1908, Rush had decided to further his studies in the field. He borrowed $400 and went to Philadelphia to enroll, as a junior, in the University of Pennsylvania. Soon after his graduation from medical school in June of 1910, Rush, now 23 years old, left for Pittsburgh to serve a year’s internship at Allegheny General Hospital. Once during that year, Eula Mae traveled to Philadelphia with her cousin Essie Harrill, and Rush came over from Pittsburgh for a few days to spend some time together.
When the Pittsburgh internship was over, in the fall of 1911 the young doctor set up practice in Shelby, within arm’s reach of Eula Mae. Soon Rush asked R. R. Haynes for Eula’s hand in marriage. R. R. agreed, but only if Dr. Shull would move his practice to Cliffside.
And so, in January of 1912, Cliffside got another physician.
Wedding bells tolled on April 24 at Cliffside’s Baptist Church. “Because of the prominence of the contracting parties,” one paper wrote, “the event attracted wide interest over the State.” The maid of honor was Miss Virginia Haynes, a sister of the bride.
Young Dr. Shull started practice with a horse and buggy, but late in that first year in Cliffside he bought a Model-T Ford Runabout. “The automobile was rather cranky and not too dependable. Family Members say Dr. Shull really lost his temper with this car. They insist on several occasions when the Ford refused to run, he threw stones at it and called it all sorts of names.” Often, as an alternative, he would rent a rig at the livery stable.
Dr. Shull joined the army when the United States entered the Great War. He was in the Medical Corps Reserve and held the rank of lieutenant. He was a regimental surgeon for six months at Fort Greenleaf near Chattanooga, Tenn. In late fall, 1917, he returned to Cliffside on leave and it was discovered he had an arthritic hip which prevented him from returning to active duty. He continued to serve the residents of the Cliffside area as a physician.
The Shulls, now with two children, Joseph Rush Jr. and Elizabeth, “lived in a bungalow next door to the Haynes home, which Mr. Haynes had built for them.” A third child, William Henry, was born to them in April 1918.
Meanwhile, the great flu epidemic was raging and Dr. Shull was making calls day and night in the same Model-T that he bought in 1912. At that time the Prohibition law was in effect and only a physician could buy liquor. It was difficult to come by. When Dr. Shull heard that whiskey could be obtained from a government source in Statesville, North Carolina, he persuaded the deputy sheriff of his county to travel to Statesville and buy the whiskey for him. The deputy returned from his trip with ten gallons of corn whiskey, which the doctor rationed to patients with the flu.
During his tenure at Cliffside, Dr. Shull continued to keep up to date on the latest medical innovations and discoveries. He would attend short seminars and courses at major hospitals and universities. It was at Harvard that he first became interested in X-ray. Since the discovery of the roentgen ray in 1895, there had been pioneers in this field in the United States, but work with the new ray had been done primarily by French and German scientists and doctors. However, during World I, the X-ray began to be used extensively by medical men in this country. Dr. William Stewart of New York delivered a series of lectures at Harvard. To demonstrate his findings, he filled the abdominal cavity of a patient with nitrogen gas. At the same time, X-rays were made and the viscous of the patient was clearly outlined. This technique and the ensuing lectures made a lasting impression on young Dr. Shull and he was determined to learn more about the remarkable ray. He talked to everyone who could tell him more about the machine and its uses and read what little had been written about it.
In January 1920, Dr. Shull moved his family to Charlotte for the chance to work with other doctors. Such opportunities were greater in a larger town. In addition, his father-in-law, R. R. Haynes, had died in 1917 and there were no longer any ties binding him to Cliffside.
Adapted from the biography of Dr. Joseph Rush Shull, by Courtenay Jones Dillingham, edited by Constance Holloway.
A condensed version of this article appeared in the Jan-Feb 2007 newsletter of the Cliffside Historical Society.
He bought a house on Seventh Street and went into practice with Dr. Otho Ross. His Harvard experience was vivid in his mind and he told Dr. Ross about the wonderful X-ray machine and how much it would mean to them in diagnosis. Together they bought an X-ray, the second one in Charlotte.
In 1924, Dr. Shull decided to practice medicine by himself and moved into offices in the Medical Building behind the Public Library. He immediately bought an X-ray machine. When it arrived, it was so heavy and cumbersome that the express deliveryman refused to haul it upstairs and dumped the crates on the curb. Later, porters were hired to move the machinery into the office and a technician was sent from the factory to assemble it. Dr. Shull paid about $5,400 for the machine.
After moving to Charlotte, Dr. Shull served on the staffs of all four of the city’s hospitals: Saint Peter’s, Mercy, Presbyterian, and Good Samaritan, the Negro hospital owned by the Episcopal Church. He was an instructor on the nursing school staff at Saint Peter’s and administered anesthetics at all of the hospitals. In addition to his own practice, he was an examiner for a number of life insurance companies and he continued his efforts to learn more about X-ray. There were few textbooks on this subject, so he attended every medical meeting in the hope that he might add to his knowledge. He also journeyed to many teaching centers where X-ray was used and new techniques were being studied.
In 1925, Dr. Shull decided to limit his practice to the field of radiology. Despite the inadequacies of the available equipment and the imperfection of its parts, he felt that he wanted to confine himself to diagnosis by X-ray. At that time, X-ray was little used for therapy except by the French and Germans.
Three years later, in 1928, Dr. Shull became a member of the Radiological Society of North America at that organization’s meeting in New Orleans. His practice in radiology increased enormously, but soon the great financial crash of 1929 and the following Depression wreaked great havoc. Dr. Shull’s patient load increased as the medical profession used the X-ray more and more.
However, the paying patient was rare in those days of want. Although he was working harder than ever, Dr. Shull found that he could not meet his financial obligations and in 1930, he and Mrs. Shull were forced to declare bankruptcy. It was a discouraging time and one that would have defeated a weaker person. The Shulls and their three children moved from their home to a rented one. They obtained a loan from Mrs. Shull’s brother and by means of stringent economy managed to exist. Dr. Shull not only maintained his practice in Charlotte but also traveled to other towns to examine patients for businesses and insurance companies that paid him in cash. Somehow, he and Mrs. Shull managed.
Late in 1936, a patient came to Dr. Shull’s office who showed symptoms of general malaise, coughing, and shortness of breath. The man worked at Southeastern Asbestos Company. X-ray films indicated changes in the lung structure, or fibrosis. During the next year, Dr. Shull examined several hundred patients who had the same occupation and complained of the similar symptoms. After the first few months he suspected that this condition was dust disease of the lungs caused by the manufacture of the abrasive asbestos.
For two years, he studied this condition and assembled data. Finally, he was able to obtain autopsy reports on two of his patients whose deaths were attributed to pulmonary failure. He collected the material on seventy one of these cases and published a paper on the disease titled “Asbestosis: A Roentgenological Review of 71 Cases.” This paper, the first report of its kind to appear in the United States, was published by the Journal of the Radiological Society of North America in 1936.
At that time, the Workmen’s Compensation Law did not cover this type of disease and would not deem it compensable. Later, Dr. Shull was able to prove in commission hearings that this was a disease by accident. Although he had diagnosed several victims of the disease, compensation was denied and litigation started in 1938. The North Carolina Industrial Commission held numerous hearings in Raleigh and Charlotte over a two-year period. Finally, liability was admitted and compensation paid on the basis that the abrasive dust from the manufacture of asbestos was all occupational disease by accident, such as silicosis,long a compensable disease under the original law. Thus, Shull was primarily responsible for the development by manufacturers and insurance companies of new equipment and devices for the protection of workers in the asbestos industry.
As a medical practitioner, Dr. Shull had the ability to inspire confidence in his patients. He often visited in their homes to let them know of his interest. He loved people and constantly did thoughtful things for his family, friends, and patients. He had a knack for remembering names and was so familiar with the state, its history, and its families that he could nearly always tell a place of residence from the name of the person. He loved to trace kinship with people and spoke of his numerous friends and patients in Catawba, Lincoln, and Cleveland counties as “my kind of people.” He particularly enjoyed telling of humorous experiences peculiar to the life of a physician.
Dr. Shull’s civic involvement largely centered on an institution known today as the Mint Museum of Art.
It all started in 1932. That year, the promise of a hundred new jobs in Charlotte through the expansion of the Trade Street Post Office became too important to pass up. That the old United States Mint building, then serving as a meeting place for the Charlotte Woman’s Club, would have to be razed to make room would be a painful, but necessary sacrifice.
Many people stepped forward in reply to attorney and historian Julia Alexander’s plea to save the building and preserve a critical chapter in Charlotte’s history. Her press conference called for citizens to “maintain the spirit of 1775.”
On February 14, 1933, a small group of citizens, including Dr. Shull, met in the office of J. E. Steere, local Boy Scout executive, to find what might be done to preserve the Mint building. This group formed the Mint Museum Society. The idea of transforming the old Mint into a center for the arts and history greatly appealed to Dr. Shull. He saw an opportunity to contribute to the cultural life of his city, joining with Mary Meyers Duelle and Mrs. W H. Belk and others in raising $1,500 through a grassroots effort to purchase the material and move it to four acres in Eastover Park that were donated by Mr. and Mrs. E. C. Griffith.
When the drive to raise funds faltered short of its goal, Dr. Shull offered a gesture of faith that inspired the community resolve to complete the project. Having already watched his wife’s family fortune lost in bank stocks that became worthless overnight, Dr. Shull put up the one thing of value he owned as collateral in purchasing the old mint—his X-ray machines.
The Latter Years
In 1951, Mrs. Shull became ill and she and Dr. Shull began to live more quietly. Dr. Shull relinquished all of his duties except those pertaining to his own practice in Charlotte. He and Mrs. Shull spent much time in their garden, and even then roses grown by Dr. Shull were well known to local horticulturists. Mrs. Shull remained in poor health. Since Dr. Shull himself was not well, he made plans to close his office in 1956.
After the death of Mrs. Shull in May of that year, Dr. Shull did indeed close his office and sold some of his equipment. But most of it he gave to his first love, Good Samaritan Hospital, in order he said, “to bring things up to date a little.”
Even in his few remaining years, Dr. Shull was still the subject of much interest in the community. On January 3, 1961, The Charlotte Observer published what was probably its last article about the renowned doctor before his death.
At 74, Shull is Still Busy with X-rays
“After 30 years, I just enjoying coming down here.”
Strange words to hear these days about controversial Good Samaritan Hospital.
“But I’ve seen the place grow and I believe I’m doing some good,” says Dr. J. Rush Shull.
And this may explain what has-at the age of 74-kept him active at what has been described as “a dying institution.” It may explain, too, why he is considered by many the father of X-ray services at Good Samaritan and one of a fast disappearing group of pioneers in radiology.
For more than three decades he has served as radiologist at the Negro hospital and some of his work in those years has won him a nationwide reputation.
In 1936, he became concerned with a dust disease of the lung, which was developing in and around Charlotte in connection with the manufacture of asbestos.
It was a study of his, published in the Journal of Radiology and based on 71 cases, that first identified an ailment called “asbestosis,” a disease that led to disablement for its victims.
On the heels of his findings, insurance carriers and manufacturers proceeded to develop new equipment that made the asbestos industry a comparatively safe one. And, following his study, he was elected to a fellowship in the American College of Radiology in 1941….
It was in 1927 that his connection began with Good Samaritan Hospital. It was the year that the Nalle Clinic moved to North Church Street and quit doing its own X-ray work.
Dr. Shull bought that equipment and at his own expense had it installed at the Negro hospital…
In 1935, he had an X-ray unit at the old Ashe-Faison Children’s Clinic on West Seventh Street. When the clinic closed, Dr. Shull moved this equipment, too, to Good Samaritan and the hospital got a dark room…
Last week, because of an illness, he missed the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America for the first time in 25 years. But Monday morning, the short, stocky, white-haired doctor was back at Good Samaritan reading X-rays as he has done six days a week nearly every week since 1927.
In all the years-discounting time for attendance at medical meetings, he has probably missed less than a dozen days…
By 1964, Dr. Shull had left his longtime residence at 1633 East Morehead Street and took up residence at Charlotte’s Wesley Nursing Center. On Friday, October 9, Joseph Rush Shull died of heart disease and generalized arteriosclerosis. Grieving friends, family, and colleagues turned out for the Sunday funeral at Myers Park Methodist Church of the man hailed as a “pioneering Charlotte doctor” in a Charlotte Observer obituary. The Rev. William B. Bobbitt, Jr. led the service, and burial followed at Charlotte’s Forest Lawn Cemetery.
Adapted from the biography of Dr. Joseph Rush Shull, by Courtenay Jones Dillingham, edited by Constance Holloway.
A condensed version of this article appeared in the Jan-Feb 2007 newsletter of the Cliffside Historical Society.
In 1941, at age 54, Dr. Shull had an amazing adventure. The incredible details were written up in the Charlotte papers, and included in his biography. Here’s the full story.
In August of ’41, Dr. Shull was summoned to appear in federal court in Asheville to testify in a disability case. Mrs. Shull accompanied him as far as Marion to visit her sister. Dr. Shull drove on alone. It had been raining for days and it continued to rain as he drove from Marion to Old Fort. Just after passing through the latter town, he ran into a landslide and was forced to turn back.
He stopped at a drugstore in Old Fort to have a Coca-Cola. There, he saw an old friend, Dr. Johnston, and told him of his difficulties. The other doctor insisted that Route 10 to Asheville was always passable even in the worst weather. Encouraged by this, Dr. Shull again set out for his destination. As he crossed a bridge outside Old Fort, he could see that a deluge of water, a flash flood, was coming out of the mountains. However, he kept on going for several hundred yards until he passed a mountain boy.
“Mister, you better get out of that car!” the lad warned. Noticing that the water was rising rapidly around him, Dr. Shull got out of the car and followed the boy along a barbed fence toward higher ground. The current was so swift it was all Dr. Shull could do to hang onto the fence. At the moment the youth reached higher ground and disappeared over a little hill, the rising water swept Dr. Shull and the fence away.
The floodwaters carried him along, buffeting him unmercifully against the wire fence. After what seemed like eternity, he managed to catch hold of a branch of an elder tree growing on the bank. There he hung for one hour and forty minutes. He could not swim, but he grimly clutched the branches and hoisted himself up with each surge of the water. The branches which he held were the topmost limbs of the tree and therefore small and limber. Each time a wave came, he almost drowned but managed to keep his head out of the flood.
After some time, Dr. Johnston, who was making a call in that area, saw Dr. Shull’s car but was unable to locate its owner. Finally, he surmised what had occurred and placed an emergency phone call to a family up the river. These people immediately searched the river and discovered Dr. Shull still clinging to the top of the elder tree. They brought a truck and plow lines and began rescue operations. Two Boy Scouts, who were counselors at a nearby camp, swam the torrent and anchored the lines on the opposite shore. They then assisted Dr. Shull into a packsaddle and he was pulled to safety across the river.
His rescuers drove him to their farm and put the doctor to bed. He directed them to cover him with blankets and a heating pad.
The next morning, old Dr. Johnston was able to reach the farmhouse in his Model-T Ford. He gave the patient—who was suffering from shock, exposure and severe cuts from the barbed wire fence—tetanus antitoxin. The following day, Dr. Johnston took the younger physician to the hospital in Marion, where he began to recover and was moved to his home in Charlotte. Amazingly, a farmer found his glasses unbroken, one mile downstream from the elder tree.
A version of this article appeared in the Jan-Feb 2008 edition of The Cliffside Chimes, newsletter of the Cliffside Historical Society.
Joseph Rush Shull Jr.: ‘A Nice Guy Who Finished First’
Charlotte Observer Sunday, July 2, 1989.
Joe Shull and I missed each other in life. It is in his death that I have come to know this remarkable man. If the person you love most were to die, how many communications of bereavement do you think it likely you and your family would receive: A dozen? Perhaps a score or two?
When I heard that Joe Shull’s recent passing brought more than 800 condolences, I was skeptical. That sounds like the requiem for a saint. Having sampled the mail, I am a believer. It was Friday, June 23, when Joseph Rush Shull Jr. passed on at Presbyterian Hospital at age 76. He was one of 13 people whose lives ended that day in Mecklenburg County and 250,000 who died worldwide.
Each of those persons had a unique biography. Joe Shull evoked powerful feelings in his fellow riders on this planet we call Earth. Some lines from the hearts of others:
“In my 30 years with DuPont I worked with a lot of people – none were as genuinely loved and respected by both their peers and customers as Joe Shull.”
“He did what he said he would do, and he did it when he said he would do it.”
“The most constant and generous friend anyone could have.”
“A dedicated family person.”
“He taught us all that grace and charm outweigh the `things’ we reach for.”
“A master storyteller.”
“Joe was the fellow who brought you his garden’s produce, built you a birdhouse, met your plane at the airport, included your grandchildren in an outing for his, arranged the beach trip or cruise, or helped organize a family reunion or a social group such as the Thursday Dance Club, of which he was president at the time of his death.”
Joe Shull grew up in Charlotte, a descendant of one of North Carolina’s pioneer industrial developers. His maternal grandfather was Raleigh Rutherford Haynes, who came along in Cliffside in Rutherford County at a time when men often christened their mills for women such as daughters, wives, mothers. Thus were Florence and Henrietta mills named.
Joe Shull found a sweetheart in Charlotte’s old Central High. Her name was Sally Hunter and they never broke up, celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary last Oct. 15. “Two peas in a pod,” a friend said, citing the way they reinforced each other. “Joe and Sally were such good company.” Their sons, J. Rush III and Graeme, both live here.
It was not surprising that Joe Shull spent his life selling x-ray film. His father, Dr. Joseph Rush Shull, was one of Charlotte’s first physicians to specialize in the picture taking that revolutionized medicine. It was Dr. Shull who in the Depression pledged his equipment as collateral for a $3,500 note so the old U.S. Mint could be moved from West Trade Street to Eastover to become the city’s art museum.
Son Joe went off to Chapel Hill, where he was president of Kappa Alpha fraternity. His brother, Dr. William H. Shull, later held the same office. The brothers settled in Charlotte. Their sister, Betty, married Clarence A. Griffin here, so all three Shull siblings have spent a lifetime in Charlotte. “That family has a lot of love for each other,” said a friend, “a lot of love.”
Joe Shull was a natural salesman. His DuPont territory was the Carolinas and Virginia. In 32 years of traveling, he came to know every radiologist and every technician. So popular was he that the x-ray operators made him an honorary member of their Technologists Society. It was one of the honors of which he was most proud. He left Charlotte every Monday and returned on Friday, the way thousands of salesmen did. Much of that mileage was before the days of interstates, when driving was more of a chore. Salesmen not only offered products, they were circuit-riding news carriers who brought talk of the trade and an interesting story.
The side of Joe celebrated in the letters quoted earlier made him well liked in his territory. His interest in people was real, not superficial.
Those who knew him best list his passions as family, job, gardening and Southern history. Only a few years ago, when Joe Shull was in his early 70s, he enrolled at UNC Charlotte for a history course. For years his garden was at his home on Harris Road, off Providence Road near Wendover Road.
When Joe and Sally moved to an apartment, he shifted his gardening to the home of sister Betty and Clarence Griffin on East Morehead Street. “These squirrels of yours have PhDs,” he would complain to Betty and Clarence. “Every time I do something to out-figure them, they then out-figure me.”
“We called him ‘Stormy,”‘ Betty Griffin recalled. “He really did storm through life. If something had to be done, he did it or saw that it was done.” She smiled, recollecting one of Joe’s claims to fame: He was the first baby born in Rutherfordton’s new hospital.
Those hundreds of people who wrote to widow Sally and their two sons, and to sister Betty Griffin and brother Dr. William Shull, each had a special memory of Joe Shull. They told of how he gladdened their lives with his.
None said it better than brother-in-law Clarence Griffin: “Amid the current reports of ‘bad guys,’ violence and abuse, it is refreshing to have news that a`nice guy can finish not last but first.”
Clarence, we should all live as well.
(signed) Rolfe Neill
Publisher, The Observer
Clipping courtesy Phillip White