Dr. Leon Whitfield Robertson,
husband, civic leader,
died Friday, March 7, 2014
Dr. Leon Whitfield Robertson was born in Rolesville, N.C., located in Wake County, on November 27, 1919, to George J. Robertson and Ollie Evangeline Jones. His father owned and managed a number of farms and a general store in Rolesville. He was a town commissioner from its second incorporation in 1941 and mayor of the town from 1952 until his death in 1957.
Dr. Robertson graduated from Rolesville High School and went to the University of North Carolina, graduating in 1941 with a chemistry major. He started medical school at UNC that same year. Also in 1941, he went into the U.S. Army reserve as a Private and completed his service in the Army in 1945 with the rank of First Lieutenant. He attended two years at Carolina Medical School, then transferred to Bowman Grey School of Medicine of Wake Forest College, and in 1945, he graduated in the second class of the new four-year medical school.
Shortly after graduating from medical school, on June 23, 1945, Dr. Robertson married Virginia Mae Lancaster of Edgecombe County, North Carolina. He completed his internship at Watts Hospital in Durham, N.C. and his residency at Rex Hospital in Raleigh, N.C. He had planned to practice medicine with his uncle, Dr. Harvey Robertson, in Salisbury, but the couple ultimately chose a location closer to their homes.
Dr. Robertson entered private practice in 1947 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, with his first office near the downtown Post Office. Thereafter he worked for two years in solo practice, with his office over Rose’s Drugstore on Main Street. In 1950, he joined the Speight, Stone and Bunn Clinic. Dr. Marvin Stone remained part of the practice, but Dr. Speight retired; Dr. Bunn passed away and was succeeded by Dr. O.E. Bell. The practice added surgeon Dr. Samuel Way, and became the Stone, Bell, Way and Robertson Clinic. However, since “that was too much to say when answering the phone,” Dr. Robertson said the group decided to change its name to Memorial Clinic, which in 1957 became Memorial Hospital.
Dr. Robertson was a Mason and he joined the Shriners in 1952. He was the Director of the Ceremonial Medical Staff of the Sudan Temple for Eastern North Carolina for 53 years. He was also an active member of the Civitan, Elks and Lions Clubs in Rocky Mount.
In 1955, Dr. Robertson was called to active military service, initially for the Air Force. His posting would have been in the far west, far from his family and where he might be exposed to airborne dust that could aggravate his asthma. So he traveled to Washington and spoke to Admiral Dr. L.O. Stone, head of the Bethesda Naval Hospital and brother of Dr. Marvin Stone. Admiral Stone obtained a change in Dr. Robertson’s orders, securing him for the Navy and posting him at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.
For two years Dr. Robertson served his country at Camp LeJeune as Lieutenant Commander in the U.S. Navy through his medical practice, mainly obstetrics. He estimated that his rotation of three doctors delivered more than 300 babies each month. His obstetric skill carried back to Rocky Mount after he left active duty. For most of the years when he was a family physician, he delivered 10 to 15 babies each month for rich and poor mothers — Black, White, Asian and Native American. And more than a few of those children still bear the first name of the doctor who welcomed them into the world — Leon.
When he returned to Rocky Mount, Dr. Robertson and his wife Virginia became Charter Members of a new Baptist church in town, Lakeside Baptist Church.
Over the years, Dr. Robertson worked in industrial medicine for the Atlantic Coastline Railroad and Rocky Mount cotton mill. He worked from 1957 through 1973 at Memorial Hospital in Rocky Mount in family practice, about a third or more of which was obstetrics. In 1973, he moved Memorial Clinic next to Nash General Hospital. The clinic added Dr. Pat Marquez in 1974, who remained with Dr. Robertson there until the clinic closed in 1990. Dr. Robertson served as President of the Nash County Medical Society when the decision was made to build Nash General Hospital. He then was elected Secretary and later Chief of Staff at Nash General Hospital.
Dr. Robertson also took an active interest in mental health. Both Governors Dan Moore and Bob Scott appointed Dr. Robertson to the Governor’s Medical Advisory Committee to the North Carolina Mental Health Board where he was elected Chairman. Dr. Robertson and others established a Mental Health Association for Nash and Edgecombe counties. He and psychiatrist Dr. Billy Royal held a mental health clinic at the Rocky Mount health department one day a month, and eventually the Mental Health Association was able to rent its own offices at an old nursing home. Dr. Robertson was President of the North Carolina Mental Health Association in 1970 and on the North Carolina Mental Health Board of Directors when the Association hired its first full-time director in Raleigh.
Dr. Robertson was certified as a Diplomat of the American Board of Family Practice in 1971. He was a specialist in Family Practice for 35 years which required him to take an examination conducted by the National Board of Medical Examiners every seven years.
Joining Boyce-Willis Clinic in 1990, Dr. Robertson continued in family practice, industrial medicine and obstetrics. In 2001, Dr. Robertson moved his practice to offices located at the Community Hospital, serving mainly nursing home patients when he retired from medical practice on December 31, 2005, at age 86.
Over the years, some of Dr. Robertson’s patients came to trust him for personal counsel as well as for medical advice. “Some of my pediatric patients would go off to college and come back and ask me about one thing or another,” he said. “If their parents asked about it, I’d just tell them I can’t talk about a patient, but their child was doing just fine.”
Dr. Robertson has served multiple generations of patients from the same family. Early in his career, he had delivered a baby girl. Years later, he was called to a double delivery for the same woman and the daughter she had borne. He delivered both babies on the same day, and the grandmother shared her maternity room with her daughter, her new daughter, and her new granddaughter.
Dr. Robertson said that when he began his medical practice, “I started off thinking of my patients as my responsibility.” He went on to say that as he gained experience and confidence, “I learned that the best way I could heal them was to start by loving them.”
In February of 2006, Virginia Lancaster Robertson preceded her husband in death. Dr. Robertson established the Endowment for Study Abroad at Meredith College in Raleigh, N.C. in honor of his wife of 61 years who was a member of the Class of 1942 at Meredith College. In August of 2006, Dr. Robertson married Florene Maynard Radford Walker, who had been his nurse for 25 years and who was a good friend of Virginia Robertson.
Dr. Robertson’s daughter, Ann Robertson, is an immigration lawyer practicing in Raleigh, NC, and is married to Hans Christian Linnartz. His son, Dr. Wayne Robertson, is a psychologist who is now living at Lake Gaston, N.C., and is married to Jane Suiter Robertson; their children are Michael, a chef in Charlotte, N.C., and Steven, an engineer, living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Robertson was particularly close to his former wife’s sister, Frances Lancaster Carlton, and her husband, Hilton Carlton, who live in Wilson, N.C. Dr. Robertson was preceded in death by his two sisters, LaRue Robertson Rogers and Catherine Robertson Scarboro.
The family will receive friends and relatives from 7.p.m to 8:30 p.m. Friday, March 14, 2014 at Wheeler and Woodlief Funeral Home. A service to honor Dr. Robertson will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday morning at Lakeside Baptist Church with Dr. Jody Wright officiating.
The family would like to express gratitude to his caretakers, Dianne Cordell Wright and James Grant and to Hospice and Palliative Care of Nash General Hospital.
A memorial Facebook site has been created where stories, photographs and other remembrances of Dr. Robertson may be shared. Its address is www.facebook.com/drleonrobertson.
Memorial contributions may be made to Lakeside Baptist Church in Rocky Mount, N.C. for its ministries to senior citizens or to Meals on Wheels of Rocky Mount.
Arrangements entrusted to Wheeler and Woodlief Funeral Home, 1130 N. Winstead Avenue, Rocky Mount N.C. 27804. You may share memories and condolences with the family by visiting www.wheelerwoodlief.com.