Retiring at 90

Published 7:22 pm Saturday, July 9, 2011

Retiring: Dr. Phillip Thomas has practiced medicine in Chuckatuck for 59 years. He will retire in August.

Chuckatuck doc will put away his stethoscope

When Dr. Philip Thomas asked a friend if opening a practice in Chuckatuck was a good idea, the friend replied, “Only if you want to kill yourself.”

“But here I am, 90 years old, and I haven’t killed myself yet,” Thomas said last week.

Now, after 60 years of practicing medicine, Thomas has decided to retire.

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Thomas has been practicing medicine in Chuckatuck for 59 years, most of them at his current office on King’s Highway.

He said his decision to retire was based on a variety of things, but the main reason was a looming need to integrate new technologies into his office. It would be too great a burden to transition his office to electronic record keeping, he said.

Additionally, his age and some health problems were factored into the decision to retire.

Thomas wanted to be a doctor long before he ever went to college, because he wanted to help people.

He entered The College of William & Mary in 1939 to start his medical education, but it was put on hold when he was called to serve in World War II.

But during the war, Thomas continued his passion for medicine while serving in the medical corps.

He returned to college in 1945 after being wounded by shrapnel. After graduating from William & Mary, Thomas attended the Medical College of Virginia and then interned at Norfolk’s DePaul Hospital in 1951.

For a while, he filled in at a practice in Whaleyville, but he soon decided he wanted to open his own practice in Suffolk.

Other doctors in Suffolk told him his best bet was in the Crittenden, Eclipse and Hobson area, but Thomas once again didn’t take his associates’ advice.

“They wanted me to go to Crittenden, Eclipse or Hobson,” he said. “I told them Chuckatuck is right in the middle of things, and that’s where I want to go.”

He said he’s stayed in the area for so long because of its close proximity to Sentara Obici Hospital.

He also likes Chuckatuck’s rural setting.

In addition to running his own practice, Thomas was on the staff at Obici from 1952 until 1992 and volunteered at the Suffolk Health Department throughout his career.

In 60 years, Thomas has delivered more than 2,000 babies.

Thomas remembers one delivery he did at Obici particularly well.

One night, a pregnant woman in labor entered the emergency room, and when nurses asked who her doctor was, the woman told them it was Dr. Thomas.

Thomas said he didn’t know the woman but agreed to deliver her baby after she persisted.

Soon after, Thomas had delivered triplets, much to the woman’s surprise.

“She said ‘Dr. Thomas, please don’t find any more,’” he recalled.

Thomas said the patients are the reason he became a doctor and the reason he has continued his practice well past the age of retirement.

He said he will miss his patients more than anything when he retires.

“I just like people and enjoy making them feel better,” Thomas said.

Thomas’s last day is Aug. 1, and he said his patients are upset he is closing his practice.

He said many of his patients don’t want to find a new doctor, because they have seen him for so long.

“They say, ‘I don’t know what I would do without you,’” he said. “And really, I don’t know either.”

His youngest daughter, Katherine, who has worked in his office for 27 years, said the patients love her father because he is more attentive than other doctors.

“The patients are more like family,” she said. “They look at him as a father and someone they love and admire.”

Thomas said he hopes to take it easy after he retires and spend more time on his hobbies of collecting stamps and coins.