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Tangier clinic dedicated in honor of Dr. Nichols

Dr. David Nichols waves to the hundreds of people who gathered on Tangier Island Sunday for the dedication of the David B. Nichols Health Center. The ribbon-cutting ceremony also was a chance for people to say goodbye to Dr. Nichols, who has terminal cancer.
by Audrey Thomasson

Amid smiles and tears, a country doctor’s dream came true Sunday when hundreds gathered on a narrow island street in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay for the ribbon cutting at one of the most advanced family medical clinics in Virginia.

Inez Pruitt P.A. said she is one of the luckiest women on the planet because her dream came true and Dr. Nichols was “much responsible” for that. (Videos by Michael Kucera)
Dr. Nichols told the islanders that while he will be leaving them in body, he will never leave them in spirit.
Governor Bob McDonnell said this is a perfect example of how public/private partnerships can work together to achieve a goal.
Congressman Rob Wittman praised Jimmie Carter and Dr. Nichols for their efforts.
From across the bay and around the block they came—neighbors, friends, patients, contributors, colleagues, and Gov. Bob McDonnell, Rep. Rob Wittman and other dignitaries—traveling by boat, plane, helicopter, and golf cart to celebrate the dedication of the $1.4 million health center named in honor of Dr. David Nichols.

Like other businesses on the island, Lorraine Marshall closed Lorraine’s Restaurant for the ceremony, denying lunch to late-comers, including her grandson. “You need to go to the ceremony,” she said as she hustled him and customers out the door.

Under a scorching sun, hundreds gathered in front of the steps of the new clinic. But the joy and pride residents have in the facility was tempered by the recent news that their physician and friend, Dr. Nichols, has terminal cancer and only a few months to live. All came to say goodbye to the man whose dedication, perseverance and love for Tangier Island endured 31 years and culminated in ensuring they had a new facility to replace their 50-year-old decaying clinic.

Resident Dewey Crockett opened the ceremony with a prayer that the Lord work a miracle and “put a healing hand on Dr. Nichols. We need him, Tangier needs him and his family needs him.”

Gov. McDonnell said his daughters were so inspired by stories about Dr. Nichols that they and his wife joined him for the dedication.

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” Gov. McDonnell told the gathering. After recognizing that 98 percent of Tangier citizens voted for him, he added, “You have a friend in Richmond...Tangier Island will not be forgotten as long as I’m governor. We’ll be back to help.”

Virginia Department of Health commissioner Dr. Karen Remley spoke of Dr. Nichols’ success in establishing and operating a successful practice in White Stone while “steadfastly meeting the clinical needs of residents of the island,” she said. “He kept his promise to residents of the island for 31 years; no matter the weather, he traveled” to the remote island at least once a week to treat patients, said Dr. Remley.

Representatives of Staff Care, who named Dr. Nichols the nation’s “Country Doctor of the Year” in 2006, came from Texas to name him the first “Country Doctor of the Decade” commending his dedication and help in interviewing new nominees, selecting winners and raising awareness to entice younger doctors into rural medicine.

Other elected officials bestowed resolutions and commended him as a humanitarian, leader, and mentor who exemplifies dedication.

Islander Inez Pruitt said Dr. Nichols mentored her from 1987 as a single mother without a high school diploma to becoming Tangier’s resident physician assistant four years ago. “I dreamed a dream and it came true.”

When it was time for Dr. Nichols to address the crowd, the faithful and steadfast man wavered as he looked into the faces of his friends. Choking back tears, he called the residents good and loving and said about each flight to Tangier, “My spirit was lifted as the island came into view.”

He remembered everyone who helped make the clinic possible, including Riverside Medical Group, which will send physicians to the island each week. But he especially thanked Jimmie Carter, a developer from Lancaster County who organized and ran the foundation and raised the funds. “Jimmie is like a brother to me. He has seven sisters so he needs another brother.”

“I thank you all for your prayers,” Dr. Nichols told the crowd, assuring them not to worry. “While I will leave you in body, I will never leave you in spirit.”

Afterward, islanders held a dinner reception at the schoolhouse, featuring homemade island specialties, to thank all the people who, in the words of Inez Pruitt, “didn’t even know us personally and reached out and helped us.”

Related articles and videos:
Dr. David Nichols: A legacy of love & compassion (videos)
Film depicts Dr. Nichols’ dedication to Tangier Island (video)
All aboard for Tangier Island (slide show)

posted 09.01.2010

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