Dr. Washburn’s Obituary
From The Rutherford County News
Wednesday, January 2, 1980
Dr. Benjamin Earl Washburn, age 94, of Rutherfordton, noted Country doctor, author and Public Health official, died Friday, December 28 at the Rutherford Hospital after an extended illness. Well-known for his rural practice in the South Mountains of Rutherford County during the early 1900’s as well as his world-wide efforts in improving public health on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation, Dr. Washburn has been in declining health in recent years.
A native of Rutherford County, Washburn has resided since 1976 in the Fair Haven Rest Home near Rutherfordton. Although confined to a wheel chair and suffering from poor vision and hearing due to diabetes in recent years, “Dr. Ben” maintained a sharp mind and sense of humor for the many visitors who dropped by.
Funeral Services for Washburn were scheduled for Tuesday, January 1, 1980 at the McMahan’s Funeral South of Rutherfordton. After Chapel in Rutherfordton with the Rev. James O. Mattox officiating. Burial followed in the Rutherfordton City Cemetery. He is survived by one daughter, Zellah Pike of Woodstock, N. Y., the wife of renowned watercolorist John Pike; and also is survived by one grandchild. Honorary pallbearers for the funeral were members of the Rutherford Hospital medical staff.
The son of the late John Rutherford and Camilla Miller Washburn of Rutherford County, he was the husband of the late Zellah Washburn, a nurse, who was his medical partner in his South Mountains medical practice and also his traveling companion during his years in the Public Health field. She died in 1967.
Born in 1885, Washburn spent his childhood on the family’s 2000 acre Cleghorn Plantation on Cox Road south of Rutherfordton. After graduating from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Washburn attended medical school at the University of Virginia. Then in 1913, with his Michigan-born wife and nurse, he established a medical practice in the rural and impoverished South Mountains of Rutherford County. The experience lasted some 14 months and is well documented in his book “A Country Doctor in the South Mountains,” published by the Spindale Press in the early 1970’s.
In the book Washburn recounted tales of his experiences in the South Mountains, as well as “localized” descriptions of ailments and remedies common to the area. Among his achievements during his practice in the Mountains were improvements in obstetric care and discoveries relating to the diagnosis and treatment of hook-worm, a common affliction of South Mountain children known to them as “Dew P’izen’.”
He followed that book up with an autobiographical account of his experiences, also published by Spindale Press, called, “To Everything A Season.” All together he authored some 10 publications, the earlier ones being research and medical documents written during his years in Public Health with the Rockefeller Foundation.
Leaving the South Mountains in 1914, Washburn and his wife packed up and began their world travels on behalf of the Rockefeller Foundation and public health improvements in underdeveloped areas. Their travels over the years until the early 1950’s when he retired, took them to Cuba, the West Indies, South America, Central America and a two year stint, 1929-30 in London, England, which he later recalled as “…the best time we had.” His primary mission in his travels was to establish Public Health programs in the various underdeveloped areas.
One significant medical achievement came in the mid-1930’s in Havana, Cuba when his work contributed to research on sickle cell anemia. He published his findings and case histories relating to the disease in the American Medical Association Journal.
Washburn and his wife returned to Rutherfordton in the 1950’s to retire but his efforts did not cease. For a period he served as Medical Director at the Rutherford County Health Department and was a key figure in obtaining the present Health Department facility here. He also became the first physician to serve on the Rutherford Hospital Board of Trustees.