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Innerviews: Longtime obstetrician celebrates 100th birthday

Before daybreak on Christmas morning, you’d leap out of bed, rouse your parents and race to check out the bounty from Santa.

Not the Grubb kids. Not always. Their dad might be at the hospital delivering a baby. Mom made them wait for Daddy’s arrival to go downstairs.

Many Christmases have passed since they were youngsters in the Staunton Avenue home their parents purchased in 1947.

Christmas memories linger there. So does the patriarch who helped create them. And that longevity makes this particular Christmas extra special.

On Dec. 11, Dr. George Grubb, a prominent OB-GYN for decades, celebrated his 100th birthday.

He delivered as many as 10,000 babies. The names include hundreds of community icons, Joe Holland, Tod Kaufman and Danny Jones among them.

He opened his practice on Quarrier Street in 1947, the height of the post-war baby boom.

A den brimming with memorabilia indicates a life that didn’t revolve entirely around medicine — classical music albums, the W sweater letter from his athletic years at Wesleyan, the state championship trophy his high school track team won in 1936, the vintage TV he built as an electronics hobbyist, bundles of snapshots and dozens of framed family photos.

He comments reluctantly on the death of his granddaughter, Jessie Grubb, a recovering addict who overdosed after a doctor prescribed opioids. The tragedy inspired the federal rule known as Jessie’s Law.

The centenarian probably won’t mention his lighter side — the pitching tryout he earned from the Cincinnati Reds or that perfect 300 game in bowling.

Gathering dust in the windowsill is a large nameplate indicating the profession that earned his devotion since boyhood: George L. Grubb, M.D.

“I was born in Indianapolis exactly a month after the armistice of the first World War was signed. I moved to Dunbar when I was 8 and lived there four years when we moved to Charleston.

“My father was a traveling salesman. There was a company in Charleston called Guthrie Morris Campbell and he traveled for them. My father was a natural-born salesman. He was on the road from Monday through Friday as long as I can remember.

“As a youngster, I always had jobs. One afternoon when I was only 5 or 6, a magazine salesman came to our neighborhood with the Saturday Evening Post, Country Gentleman and Ladies’ Home Journal and talked three of us boys into selling magazines. They even gave us a white satchel that went over our shoulders to put the magazines in.

“My father took me out in Indianapolis door to door, getting people to subscribe to those magazines. You got prizes for the number you sold each week and I got enough to get a nice wagon for myself and my brother and other prizes, too.

“I also delivered the Gazette. My uncle was city circulation manager for the Gazette, J.B. McClure. He was excellent at his work, a newspaper man from way back. He introduced delivery magazines through the South and things like that.

“I worked at the Kelly Axe Factory. We heard they were hiring young boys and we were hired to paint axes. Eating lunch and paying streetcar fare over to the Kelly Axe ate up most of what I made.

“I was a clerk at Kroger in South Charleston. You didn’t get groceries from the shelves. The clerk would go get them.

“I always wanted to be a doctor. There were doctors in Mother’s family. I never thought of being anything else.

“My uncle was a doctor and I admired him so much. He told me stories about all the things he did. His three sons were doctors, so I just kind of grew into it.

“I played football at Charleston High and ran track. We went to Morgantown to the state track meet in 1936 and were state champions that year. I ran the 100 and 200 yard dash and did the pole vault and mile relay. Big Sleepy Glenn was the coach.

“I graduated from West Virginia Wesleyan and then went to the Medical College of Virginia. I was quite interested in OB-GYN. It was productive. You never get over the miracle of birth.

“My chief of obstetrics at Richmond was a wonderful teacher. We had a very active service at the medical college.

“I went to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, for ROTC each summer while I was in medical school and served in the Army in World War II.

“We set up our battalion aid station with the idea that we were going to invade Japan and there would be many casualties, but the first atomic bomb fell and they diverted my ship to the Philippines and I was assigned to a military hospital.

“We had a very active maternity service. I enjoyed it because I was doing the work I wanted to do.

“I was in the service 18 months, then came back here and opened my practice on Quarrier Street. I moved my offices to Virginia Street in a year or two.

“My children looked at my medical records and estimated I had delivered in the neighborhood of 10,000 babies. And some nights, I felt like it.

“On Christmas morning, the children would run downstairs, but if I’d gone out on a delivery in the middle of the night, they had to stay upstairs until I got home. I hated that, and it was not uncommon.

“It was busy at New Year’s, too, because everyone wanted to have the year’s first baby. My son, David, was born on New Year’s Day, but he wasn’t the first. I delivered him.

“We had a lot of hospitals. McMillan, Mountain State, Charleston General, Kanawha Valley, Charleston Memorial. Charleston General and McMillan were the main ones for obstetrics.

“The going rate for delivery through followup was like $75 for delivery and $5 more if the mother wanted the baby circumcised.

“I would sing in the delivery room. I suppose I would do that to keep awake. A lot of deliveries were in the middle of the night and it became a habit to hum or sing something to pass the time.

“If I knew I had to go back out, I would just stay awake and put together radios, speakers and television sets. That was my hobby. They send you a whole package of directions and all you have to do is read and put them together. That’s how I relaxed.

“In the early ’90s, I gave up obstetrics. I had done it for 40-some years. I thought it was time to relax.

“A few years later, I gave up surgery. It was time to slow down.

“A lot of things have changed in the way we approach various problems. We used to do home deliveries. That diminished as we found it was safer for the mother and the baby to be in a hospital.

“We used to put the mothers to sleep. They dropped ether on a mask, a far cry from the way the delivery room improved with anesthesiologists. Things just kept getting better.

“With the anesthesia I used, the mothers were awake and could hear the baby’s first cry and knew if they had a boy or a girl.

“I never denied a father who wanted to be in the delivery room. When Joe Holland was born, I let him in the delivery room. Now that’s a common thing.

“We were very conservative. We only did a C-section when it was absolutely necessary.

“The obstetricians were all in solo practice. Now it’s all group practice.

“One nice thing about growing older is seeing the babies you delivered as they approach adulthood. You can follow them through the years.

“My mother and sister worked in the office. My mother would have coffee for the patients, little courtesies that made their visits a little more enjoyable.

“I met Ruth at Wesleyan. We had three children. George Ann has a master’s degree in public health. Steve is a retired endocrinologist. David is a lawyer who became a state senator. He was the founder of the Citizen Action Group.

“Losing my granddaughter, Jessie, was quite a burden. You learn to care for a family member and then they are gone. She was such a lovely girl. Her death inspired Jessie’s Law. What they have done in her memory is a remarkable thing.

“I feel very well. I can still tell the time of day. I hope I have my mother’s genes. She died a month short of her 101st birthday.

“Dad and my brother, I tried for years to get them to stop smoking. My brother was an OB-GYN in Point Pleasant, John Grubb. I lost both of them. I’ve never smoked cigarettes, but I do like my pipes.

“I retired completely in the late ’90s. I have this house to take care of. I’ve lived here since 1947. And I keep busy with one thing or another.

“From the early years in Indianapolis up to the present time, I’ve had a good life. The time overseas was unusual and remarkable. I’ve always somehow been fortunate enough to do what I like to do, so I have no regrets. I just want to maintain good health and enjoy every day.

“There were so many satisfying things about obstetrics and gynecology. If I were younger, I would love to still be in practice.”

Reach Sandy Wells at

sandyw@wvgazettemail.com

or 304-342-5027.

Funerals for Saturday, August 24, 2019

Barron, Dennis - 11 a.m., Airborne Church, Martinsburg.
Baylor, Elizabeth - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.
Bonds Jr., Patrick - 1 p.m., King of Glory International Ministries, Charleston.
Burgess, Corey - 5 p.m., Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Burns, Helen - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Inc., Grantsville.
Caldwell, Gary - 6 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.
Casto, Carroll - 1 p.m., Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor.
Casto, Roger - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.
Duty, Fred - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.
Fisher, Bernard - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.
Gwinn, Lloyd - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Habjan, Nathan - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay. 
Hall, Daniel - Noon, Witcher Baptist Church.
Hinkle, Ethel - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Hoffman, Bruce - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.  
Kinder, Siegel - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.
Kyler, Virgil - 11 a.m., Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Reedy.
Palmer, William - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston. 
Raynes Sr., Steven - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.
Truman, James - 2 p.m., Newton Baptist Church, Newton.
Turner, Keith - Noon, Full Gospel Assembly,  Huntington. 
Webb, Antoinette - 11 a.m., SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Oak Hill.
Wilson, Greg - Noon, Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.
Withrow, James - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.