The doctor is out

Published 5:16 pm Tuesday, May 16, 2023

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AHOSKIE – Over the course of nearly 60 years in the medical profession, Dr. Charles Sawyer has cared for thousands of people here in the Roanoke-Chowan area, from the delivery room through the end of life. And he’s done it with a very rare combination of very good clinical skills, good judgment, and compassion that are the epitome of a family physician.

But as they say, all good things must one day come to an end.

A retirement celebration in Dr. Sawyer’s honor was held here Friday (May 12) at Roanoke-Chowan Community Health Center (RCCHC). He was accompanied by his wife, Lois, and greeted by a standing room only crowd gathered in the lobby of Ahoskie Comprehensive Care to bid farewell to the 90-year-old family physician.

RCCHC Board member Dr. Viola Vaughan-Holland offered the opening prayer.

“Thank you, Lord, for giving Dr. Sawyer a medical heart and hands and the ability to give great care to his patients every day,” Vaughan-Holland noted. “Thank you, Lord, for his strength and his tenacity. May you shower him with blessings as he enters retirement with good health for all he has done and all he will do for others. May the work that he has done be a reflection for all God’s children in the field of medicine.”

Ahoskie Mayor Weyling White presented Sawyer a proclamation on behalf of the town. But before doing so, White shared a story about Sawyer’s celebrity status.

“As I go to different places across North Carolina, I will tell people I’m from Ahoskie. When I asked if they have ever heard of Ahoskie, most everyone will ask how Dr. Sawyer is doing,” White said.

The proclamation noted that Dr. Sawyer has served the local area for over 57 years, the past 18 of which have been with RCCHC as one of its founding physicians. It went on to honor Dr. Sawyer for his vision and dedication to his patients and to his community.

Ernie Carter represented the RCCHC Board of Directors in honoring Dr. Sawyer.

“He did incredible work in our community,” Carter observed. “He and his colleagues, Jim Darden, Julian Taylor, Colin Jones, Mike Alston and so many others have meant so much in improving the level of healthcare here in our area. Dr. Sawyer has an incredible ability to connect with people. On behalf of our board, thank you Dr. Sawyer, thank you Lois, for what you have given to Ahoskie and northeastern North Carolina. We will miss you.”

Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of ECU Health, said Dr. Sawyer has been practicing medicine and helping patients over the course of his entire lifetime.

“It was important for me to be here today to honor this man,” Waldrum said. “When I came to eastern North Carolina eight years ago, my first order of business was to get out in the local communities so I could better understand their needs. I came to Ahoskie and met a legend in Dr. Charles Sawyer. He understood the need to improve how we deliver medical care in a rural area, and that starts with nurturing young professionals to come here and continue the healthcare legacy that he help to start here.”

Claudia Morris represented the patients of Dr. Sawyer.

“He took the oath to serve the medical profession, but more importantly, this gentle, kind, and compassionate giant of a man bought his art of practicing medicine, his love for mankind and their well-being, and his heart to the people he cared the most for – his patients,” Morris stressed.

“Regardless of a patient’s ability to day, regardless of a patient’s race, creed, or color, he cared for everyone equally,” Morris added.

Morris went on to offer admiration and praise to Dr. Sawyer’s wife.

“As the wife of a physician, Lois spent nights by herself. She spent many weekends caring for their children. She has worked to improve the quality of life for us through her support of his medical practice,” Morris said.

In 2005, the private medical practice known as Ahoskie Family Physicians became a part of the community health center movement.

“It was a perfect fit,” Morris said. “The mission of this movement – quality, affordable, accessible care for all – was at the heart of Ahoskie Family Physicians and of that of Dr. Charles Sawyer. He has touched the lives of countless individuals while continuing to excel by staying informed of the latest medical techniques and disease management.

“He has been my provider through good times and bad as he has for countless others across this region. His patients know that he’s not only their doctor, but their friend. We need more doctors who exemplify his exceptional qualities: service, integrity, faith, compassion and wisdom. It’s with a sad heart that we say happy retirement to this man, but it’s with a very glad heart that we wish all the joy and happiness he so richly deserves,” Morris concluded.

RCCHC nurse Kristina Parker represented the medical center’s staff in honoring Sawyer.

“Dr. Sawyer is like the U.S. President to me,” she said. “People will still refer to our entire office as Dr. Sawyer’s office.”

Parker, referencing Sawyer’s years of experience, recalled one particular patient coming in with a bad chest cold.

“He smelled her breath and told her she had pneumonia. He sent her for a chest x-ray and, sure enough, she had pneumonia,” Parker said.

Parker ended her comments by comparing Sawyer’s compassion for medicine and his patients with a well-known Bible verse: 1st Corinthians 13: “Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not proud, it does not dishonor others. It is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, it always trusts, it hopes and preserves. Love never fails. Dr. Sawyer, you exemplify that for all of us. I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to work with you. I hope you enjoy the time you and Miss Lois deserve to be with your family.”

Dr. Mike Alston and Dr. Geniene Jones, both members of the RCCHC staff, each praised their colleague for his “body of work” that encompassed nearly 60 years.

“The legacy of quality healthcare that Dr. Sawyer leaves us with will never be equaled,” Alston observed. “All of us who have worked with him are the beneficiaries of his wisdom, the example he set, his tireless work ethic, and his dedication to his patients and their families.”

Alston said that even though medicine has become more technology driven, Sawyer never let that fact compromise his main purpose of becoming a doctor.

“Dr. Sawyer continues to adhere to the principles of personal touch, hands-on medicine that he was taught at UNC-Chapel Hill,” Alston noted. “He taught us here the same thing through the years.

“It’s been my great fortune to have Charles Sawyer as my doctor, my mentor, my role model, my practice partner, and my cherished friend since I was a teenager growing up in Ahoskie. I’m sure that my trajectory in life and a career in medicine have been, in large part, shaped by his counsel and his example. The legacy he leaves will never be forgotten,” Alston closed.

Dr. Jones referenced Sawyer as “a legend.”

“We look up to you so much,” she said. “You are so wise. You’ve seen healthcare change in so many ways, but yet you stay present and dedicated to this profession. That is so hard to do.”

Jones pointed out that even during the dark depths of the COVID 19 pandemic, Sawyer was “present here everyday, taking care of his sickest patients.”

She thanked him for sharing two “pearls of wisdom” – to be kind and to listen to your patients.

“I took those to heart,” Jones said. “You are the benchmark of what a provider strives to be in this profession. You have taken us to a whole new level. You are still teaching us to be dedicated to our patients and our community. We love you and want you to enjoy retirement.”

RCCHC CEO Kim Schwartz shared a little known fact about Dr. Sawyer that accurately explains the love and compassion he has for others.

“Every morning, before he comes to work, Dr. Sawyer stops by his church, goes to the alter where he prays to God for guidance for that day,” she said. “He knows how to love and comfort others.”

Sawyer was brief in his remarks, saying, “from the bottom of my heart, I love everyone in this room. You’ve meant more to me than I can ever say. My practice here in Ahoskie since 1965 has been meaningful and rewarding. I will miss my patients. God bless you all.”

Dr. Jeff Douglas gave the benediction, noting that Dr. Sawyer was a “simple man, with a simple faith by believing in God and the human powers of his God’s healings.”

Sawyer’s retirement is effective May 31.

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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