Is the next “Dr. Fleetwood” out there?

Published 5:47 pm Tuesday, March 21, 2023

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First there was Dr. Joe, then came Little Joe…both men were legends in the eyes of thousands of men, women, and children who lived in the greater Conway area of Northampton County.

You can count my late grandmother, Thelma Johnson Joyner, among those who thought the sun rose and set on Dr. Joseph (Joe) Fleetwood Sr. and Dr. Joseph (Joe) Fleetwood Jr. Both men are now deceased, but they left a lasting impression on those who were either under their medical care or, like me, admired their work and community spirit.

Both men came to mind recently when I received the annual press release announcing that the application period had opened for the Dr. Joseph A. Fleetwood, Jr. Scholarship. That scholarship was established in 1999 by the citizens of Conway and the surrounding areas for students interested in pursuing a career in a medical-related field and who will hopefully return to serve their community as “Little Joe” did for over 50 years.

The Fleetwood tradition began in 1921 when Joe Sr., after earning a degree from Tulane University in New Orleans, returned to his native Northampton County and opened a doctor’s office in Conway (at a location on NC 35 that later served as a barber shop).

A short time later, Dr. Joe met and married Caroline, then the musical director at nearby Chowan College. On Nov. 11, 1925, they welcomed their only child, a son named Joseph Fleetwood Jr.

Growing up, “Little Joe” would often accompany his father while making house calls. Perhaps that would tend to make many people believe that it was only natural for the son to follow in his father’s medical footsteps. However, Dr. Fleetwood Jr. had one dream in mind. He wanted to fly. It was at the beginning of World War II when Dr. Fleetwood Jr. attempted to make this dream a reality.

The Japanese had just attacked Pearl Harbor, an act that solidified the U.S. military entrance into the global conflict and instilled a sense of patriotism in American society. Joe Jr. wanted to do what he could to ensure our nation’s freedoms would remain intact, so he attempted to become a Navy pilot.

Though he had the dream, it was dashed after he took a simple military entrance exam. That test revealed he wasn’t qualified to fly because of his eyesight.

However, another test would determine his career path. Upon taking an aptitude test, it showed he knew about medicine. From there he enrolled in Bowman Gray Medical School at Wake Forest University in 1944. By December of 1947 he had earned his medical degree.

Still feeling the urge to serve his country, Dr. Joe. Jr. joined the Navy and was stationed at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland where he served as a physician.

When his tour of duty ended in the Navy, Dr. Fleetwood Jr., like his father, returned home….bringing with him his wife, Pat, who he had met while visiting Pennsylvania with his Naval Academy roommate. Joe Jr. and Pat were married on Jan. 27, 1951 and later became the parents of four sons.

Back in Conway, Dr. Joe Sr. and Dr. Joe Jr. joined forces to form one of the best and busiest family medical practices in all of northeastern North Carolina. They would each see up to 50 patients a day from an office that the elder Dr. Fleetwood had built in 1933 on Main Street.

Though the two men held a passion for the same profession, Joe Jr. said they both had their own way of treating patients.

“I was always trying to do things different from him,” Dr. Fleetwood Jr. said in a 2008 interview with this newspaper. “Dad said there are many ways to cure somebody. The way you do it and the way I do it are two differences. We went to two different schools of medicine. And just remember that there is always two ways of doing something.”

Like his father, Joe Jr. didn’t get a lot of sleep as he also made house calls, to include delivering babies.

One of the first babies Dr. Fleetwood Jr. recalled delivering was one in a pair of twins.

“I used to go with my father, he had a large obstetrical practice,” Joe Jr. recalled during the 2008 interview. “We delivered twins. My father delivered the first one and I delivered the second one.”

Even though none of “Little Joe’s” sons went into medicine, the Fleetwood family has still left its impression on their small community. During his career, Joe Jr. noted that seven young people from Conway chose to study medicine and become doctors. Perhaps that led to the Fleetwood Scholarship being established in 1999.

Application information for this year’s round of funding has been sent to the guidance counselors’ offices of high schools that may have students from Northampton County. Students may also download the application from the website. They should click on “Apply for Grants and Scholarships”, select “Northampton County” from the drop-down menu and then download the application and the financial information form.

Applicants must submit the completed application and all supporting documents by 5 pm on May 1 to the Dr. Joseph A. Fleetwood Scholarship Committee, c/o Southern Bank in Jackson or by delivering the application in person to Donna Burgess at Southern Bank in Jackson or Carol Hedspeth Lowe at Conway Photo Shop in Conway.

Applicants entering college for the first time must submit the completed application form and financial information form from the NC Community Foundation, the FAFSA Student Aid Report, an official high school transcript and list of extracurricular activities, two letters of recommendation and an essay. College or community college students presently pursuing a career in a medical field must submit an application including the financial information forms, a current transcript from their college or university and a letter to the committee outlining their career aspirations. A college or community college student may apply for the scholarship even if they did not apply for or receive the Fleetwood Scholarship as a high school student.

Who knows….the next “Dr. Fleetwood” may decide to come back home and make a difference in the lives of our local citizens.

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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