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Interview with: Dr. Edith Irby Jones
Interviewed by: David Goldstein
Date: December 18, 2007
DG: Today is December 18, 2007. We are in the offices of Dr. Edith Irby Jones who we are interviewing for the Houston Oral History Project. My name is David Goldstein. How are you today, Dr. Jones?
EIJ: I am fine today.
DG: Thank you very much for making time for us for the project. Dr. Jones, would you begin please by telling us about your childhood in Arkansas, your earliest memories and your family?
EIJ: I was born in Mayflower, Arkansas. My earliest memories are related to growing up in a family of 3. I had an older sister, an older brother, and a father and a mother. I grew up, until I was about 6 years old, in a rural farming area. I lost my father by death, who was kicked by a horse when he was riding on a Sunday with my mother and I suppose those are the earliest memories that I have, was about that age. I remember my father and my mother and church going and going to the brook to get water, going out in the garden to get fresh vegetables, particularly, tomatoes. I remember specifically the Sunday afternoon when my father was brought and put on what we called then the front room in the house. That was my first experience as I know it now at attempted resuscitation; that the men who brought him in put him on the floor and tried to breathe for him to press his ribs to get him to revive. He died. After that, my mother had 3 children, pregnant with another child at that time, and we moved from that place to live with her father for a short period.
There was no school in the little country Mayflower area in which my mother moved to her father and she later moved to Conway with us. I remember my next vivid memory was of my sister developing typhoid fever and having died from typhoid fever. I would say those incidents shaped my wanting to be a doctor. I saw the men performing on the floor to resuscitate my father and even though he did not live, I appreciated even then their attempting to do so. My sister died from typhoid fever. I felt at that time that if she had had medical attention, even though there was a typhoid epidemic and many died, the children who seemed to have had the resources of being able to have a doctor to visit them seemed to live. We had a doctor's visit on one occasion. My sister literally bled to death because there was no help, there was no hospital and there were no doctors to give her any kind of medical attention. I resolved that day that I was going to be a doctor and that I was going to be especially a doctor for those who needed me whether they could pay or not. And I would say that shaped what I am about today. That, in addition to my last day that I also can remember with my father, having gone to church that day, and having been all dressed up in my little organdy and patent leather shoes and purse, and my father telling me to go up and put my money in the collection. I had a handful of pennies. And I said to him, "No, I don't want to put my money in," and I can remember the very words as if they were spoken today - "Edith, if you put your money in, the Lord will reward you in multiples.
You will get much more than you put in." And I believed him. So, I climbed from his knee, went up to this little wooden table that I can visualize at this time, put my pennies down on the table and I stood there and I stood there. And finally, my father - we called him Papa - came up to get me and he said, "Edith, why didn't you come back to your seat?" I said, "Papa, I was waiting for my return. I was waiting for them to give me more than I put in." And that was my first lesson, that you get multiples of what you may contribute but that is not how you get it. But that has been a philosophy of my life, to continue to give and give and give. And indeed, I am a living witness that you do get multiples of what you do give.
I grew up in Conway until I was about 7 years old, and my mother moved to Hot Springs, Arkansas with the 3 of us. My sister had already died from the typhoid fever and she went to make a better life to have a school that we could attend. But during that time, I developed rheumatic fever and could not walk because of the swelling in my knees, that, as a result of rheumatic fever. And she taught me at home. But she taught me from the books that my brother had in school. So, I actually started to school in the 4th grade. I started in the 4th grade because they put me in the class with my brother so that he could help me to maneuver the walking the steps and about the campus, and that I had been taught out of the same books that he had used. Fortunately or unfortunately, I moved ahead of him when I got to the 5th grade. They skipped for me the end of the 4th grade, the end of the 5th grade, and part of the 6th grade. So, I never learned to do my multiplication tables, did not do my fractions very well, and had to learn all over my decimal points. But from that time on, it seemed that about the 6th or 7th grade, I felt that I had to take over -- take over home, somewhat leadership in school, and as I grew older, I was elected to usually the leadership roles as president of class or secretary of the class and as I graduated from high school, I was doing the speeches to represent the class. I was ambitious by that time. Not exposed, however, to any doctors. I had probably seen one doctor, not for me but had seen him at a distance because we were now in Hot Springs, and there was only one black doctor in Hot Springs at that time, and he was trying to see the whole population of blacks. Fortunately, we only had one major illness and that was my mother. When I was about 8 years old, she had an injury to her leg and was unable to work as a maid. I took her job and I worked for a physician there in the home for the physician's wife. They had an 18-month-old son. And, not much I could do as an 8-year-old but I could keep the son entertained and allow her time to do it. But the fortunate thing was that I met the doctor's mother, who felt that she had, let's say, gotten the short end of life. She was divorced from the doctor's father, she had taken to drinking as a relief of her sorrows, but she lectured to me, "Stay in school. Be somebody. You can do it." And from the contact with that physician, that physician's mother, I had great aspirations.
About then, I was in about the 7th or 8th grade when I started working for them. I said, working - I should say another child in their household because literally there was not much I could do as a . . . I know now there was not much I could do as a 7 or 8 year old, except to entertain the then about 18 month to 2-year-old son. But they instilled into me, particularly the mother-in-law, instilled into me that I could be somebody, that I needed to stay in school, that I needed to help people. So, I believed it. And so, I took courses and every opportunity I could, I helped someone - my neighbors. I was going to church and my church was supportive by having me to appear on programs and make speeches and even though my mother sometimes could not attend to see me on a program, she rehearsed me for the programs. She would sometimes, and I can remember specifically one Easter when she had only one dress, one dress that she could go outside to, what she would consider a dress. She sat up all Saturday night, took that dress apart and made me a dress so I could appear on a program the next day. She could not go to the program but she had me to make the speech in front of her. She corrected me as to what I should say and how I should stand and how to take my bow. And as she waved me off to make that speech, I saw the tears run down her cheeks. And that day, I resolved, I am going to make my mother happy. I am going to be somebody. And I tried hard and harder and harder. And she died but she lived until I was in medical school. She saw me go through college. She was very happy. She saw me get accepted into medical school in Arkansas and she got all of the congratulations for having brought me to that point and she was very, very happy. My mother died my sophomore year of medical school but she saw me in medical school. She saw me moving towards the goal that I had set for myself and that she had encouraged me of having. I went to college . . .
DG: Before we get to college, Dr. Jones, let me ask you: there is an unspoken assumption here that what helped define your early years was the fact that your family was not wealthy, you were poor, and that you were black, and that you were living in the South. Now, your generation knows what that meant. My generation, which is a little bit removed, knows what that meant, but the generation that hears your story might not know. So, when you talk about not having access to a doctor, I am sure there were some poor white families that struggled with that but can you talk about the radial differences, the racial reality of growing up in Arkansas? You were born in 1927, so when you were 8 years old, that was 1935. That is post Depression but before the war. Can you talk a little bit about what it meant to be black and poor in Arkansas during that time?
EIJ: In Conway, before we left for Hot Springs, there was only one black doctor in Conway.
DG: How many people?
EIJ: I am guessing. Maybe 25,000 in the whole town of Conway. Only a few blacks in terms of 8,000 approximately at that time is a very small community. My mother worked as a maid in a white home. The few months that I did go to school, I went to a black school. I am not sure how I felt then. I am not sure. In the home where she worked, she frequently took me because I was a young girl at that time, to her work. And I can remember the love, the hugs and so forth that I got from the people that she worked with. I can remember books, picture books, that they gave me to bring home, frequently books that their children had had. So, I did not feel the pinch, I did not understand to feel the pinch of black and white at that time. You somewhat accept the fact that they had money, we did not have money, but I did not, at that time, I am sure I did not think of black and white because there were some blacks who were living well. In fact, we lived, rented from a family - the Madisons at that time - who owned significant land in Conway and they lived well. When they had more food than they wanted or needed, they gave it to us. I am not sure how I felt except I did not want to feel that way forever. I did not feel neglected but I am not sure when I got to the point that I felt that I was deprived. I felt we were poor but did not get the deprived situation. And certainly at that time, did not have the racial feeling that because I did not look like the other race, that I was shut out of some things. I felt more poverty stricken than I did racial segregated. It was not until I grew up and was able to actually see what the differences were. I would say after we had moved to Hot Springs and I had the experience of living in a racially mixed neighborhood growing up next door to where we lived, there was a white family from Germany who had children my age. Next door to them, two houses from where I was, there was another white family that was American that had a daughter that was about my age. We played together, we were in and out of each other's houses. Mrs. Flemings, who lived next door, would always find it convenient to cook more than her family . . . I understand it now, I did not understand it then . . . more than her family could eat and she was constantly giving us meals. We played together, the girls - Helen and Mary - the Cunninghams and Flemings, and they went to the Catholic school. I went to the segregated black school. But I did not equate then that to racial segregation, I equated that to financial. They were able to pay for them to go to the Catholic school which was private and because my mother could not pay, I went to the public school. And so, I did not feel deprived racially so until later in life when I was able to understand what situations were, because I was in and out of their homes, their family treated me as if I was just their playmate. When they fed their children, they fed me.
We grew up and we moved away from that area to another part in Hot Springs but I was in high school. It was to an all black high school. I was so busy trying to excel because, by then, I knew where I wanted to go, I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to help people. I wanted to be able to help those who really could not help themselves. So, I was on my pathway then between my school and my teachers there and particularly, my church, who developed and pushed and had me to solve problems, to make public speeches and to create in me a sort of self feeling of there are things that I must do and there are things that I must do whether others do them or not because not only must I do them for myself, I must do them for my family, I must do them for all of those who cannot do them for themselves. I would say I had that feeling when I was about 8, 9, 10 years old, that I felt like, I've got to do it. I am the one who must do it. I must help. I must help. And I don't know really why I felt that way. But in church, Sunday school, I was given the opportunity to find out the Christian philosophy to be able to feel my neighbor's pain, to be sure that the little girl next door to me or the next seat from me felt comfortable in my presence and that I shared whatever I had. I did not know why I felt that way but it was a feeling that I wanted to help. I did not realize later that I did not have anything to help with. I needed everything I had. But fortunately, there was always enough to help. I can remember inviting to dinner some of the boys and girls and we almost had not enough to feed us. Somehow or another, my mother always found something to piece out the meal to make it enough for everybody who would come.
Once I . . . and I guess I must be somewhere around grade school, in there - 6th, 7th, and I went to the 7th grade having been skipped most of the 5th grade, most of the 6th grade, 7th grade - I was much younger than those who were in my class and, I must say, much smaller. And not only because of age but because of hereditary stature, I did not grow very fast. My brother, who was much, much larger than I was, protected me. I was his little sister. Everybody knew I was his little sister. But he was a big boy. But I got to be Erby's little sister. I went off and left him though in school. I started in the 4th grade with him, I passed him in the 6th grade, 5th/6th grade, and the next years were just sort of floating years. But then, World War II came and my brother was drafted. He was in the 11th grade then. I was in the 12th grade. I went ahead and graduated. He went to the service. I knew I wanted to go to college.
I did not have any money to go to college, I did not have any connections to go to college, but I had a teacher who was, we called them classroom sponsors. Ms. Margaret Martin who had gone to a Presbyterian school in Knoxville, Tennessee, she had been a very poor girl and she had gone on a scholarship. I don't know, I had the feeling at that time that . . . I had a scholarship. I was honors in my class and so I had academic scholarships to go to the state supported segregated black school in Pine Bluff. It was the feeling at that time that it was a privilege to go to a private school and my teacher, Ms. Margaret Martin, had gone to Knoxville College in Knoxville, Tennessee. Now, mind you, I had no money - absolutely no money - but I had scholarship and I felt that maybe I could get in on scholarship. She was able to get me in with a scholarship, at least get me admitted and hopefully I would get a scholarship. But I had an uncle and aunt who lived in Chicago. I asked them if I could come up and work that summer so that I could get some money to go to college. I rode the train, the segregated train, to Chicago, was employed at Chicago Alden's Order House. I could type. I was the fastest typer in Arkansas at the time that I took it and we had manual typewriters then, but I was typing 125 words per minute. So, I was good. I was very good, I thought. So, I got the job at Chicago Aldens and worked that summer, saved $60 over and above, buying some clothes because I thought that was important to go to college, and to be able to buy some books and I had $60 over and above my train fare to go to Knoxville College. So, after having worked in Aldens Order House and having saved my money by living with an aunt and uncle who allowed me to live with no expense of food or rent, I was able to board the train to Knoxville, and I went to Knoxville College.
My first experience in Knoxville was I went to register. I was going to live in the dormitory and they took me to, well, it was O.K. It was better than what I had been living in. But now, I know it wasn't the kind of palace that the students go to now. It was a bare room and there were bare beds - 2 beds to a room - and you brought your own linen. If you were fortunate, you had parents who would come in and decorate it and put drapes. Unfortunately or fortunately, my roommate did not have parents either. Her mother had died and her father was attempting to rear her with his mother. So, we were poor girls together. But what I can remember most, not so much being poor because we did not think that was too bad - we had a bed and we had bought sheets like they told us. It had a mattress on it. So, we did not feel too different. But I can remember specifically registration. And we were all getting ready to register and the room was getting extremely crowded. And the people at the head of the registration line saying, "Those who have everything they need to register with," and they named off that their credentials had been sent, that they had their money, $60 for registration, that they had the application form filled out and whatever else was necessary, so that all of those who have everything they need to register with get in the line to your right and those who lacked anything that is necessary to register, whether it is your health records, immunizations, whether it was your school record, whatever it was that you lacked, get in your line to the left. Well, I knew I did not have the $60 that they needed to register.
Tuition was $300. Can you imagine tuition being $300 now for 1 year? But I did not have the $60 to register with, so I got in the line that everybody did not have what they needed to register, whether it was their school record or what have you. So, when I got up to the counter, the lady said, "Young lady, how can I help you? What is it that you don't have?" I said, "I don't have any money to register with. I want to go to school here and my school sponsor said that you all would give me a scholarship." She said, "Young lady, I can't help you. You are going to have to get the money to register with." I said, "Well, who can help me?" She said, "The only person I know who can help you is the president." And so, I said, "Where is the president?" She said, "The president is Dr. Imes. He is in his office." And she showed me to his office and I went in. And he said to me, "Young lady, how can I help you?" I said, "I came to go to school. I don't have any money to register but I want to go to school." He said, "You do? Can you work?" I said, "Yes, sir, I can work." He said, "What can you do?" I said, "I can do anything but what I do most and better than anything else is I can type and take shorthand." Well, we did not have the computerized voice that you could dictate to and be able to . . . "I can take shorthand, I can type. I can type 125 words a minute. I was the fastest typer in Arkansas when I was in high school. I just worked at Aldens and they made me head of the department. I can do this." He said, "Young lady, can you be my part-time secretary?" I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "Well then, the hours that you are not in class, you come in and I will introduce you to my secretary, Ms. Draper, and you are to work in my office. That was a great opportunity and I indeed did that. As I stayed there and I learned the ropes, I found out that not only could I work in his office during regular hours, that I could work in the canteen during the lunch period to get my food, get to know the students and then I could work at night in the corner drugstore and make some real money so I could send some money home to my mother who needed money and I would have extra money to do the things I needed. So, the long story short is I attended Knoxville College.
I majored in chemistry, biology and physics. I had one B on my report record. And guess what? I cried when I got that B.
DG: What class was it?
EIJ: It was in biology. An easy class. And I can remember very vividly when I went to the teacher and I said, "I don't think I should have had a B," he said to me, "Well, Edith, I gave you a B. Only the professor here makes an A." Well, I did not like it. Well, there wasn't anything I could do about it. I accepted it. But I was determined that I would never make another B in his class or anybody else's class and I didn't. That was my only B. But I got through Knoxville and I took the MCAT because I wanted to go to medical school. I went to Nashville, Tennessee to take the MCAT. You did not take them in your . . . we called them MCAT then. It wasn't MCAT. Anyway, they were qualifications for going into medical school. And I took that and I prayed. I had $60 that I could file for application. I had enough to file for 12 medical schools, $5, $10, whatever the cost of filing. And I went back up to Chicago to work for the summer, decided I wanted to enhance myself for getting into medical school because this was the time when soldiers were returning from World War II and they were given preference as to getting into medical school and other schools because they had been deprived of being in education. So, I knew I had to be competitive. So, I enrolled in Northwestern University in Chicago which was near where I had worked before to Chicago Alden. So, I was able to work during the day and to go to the University, to Northwestern, during the evening. And so, I did that. But during the time that I was doing this, I went home one night to my uncle and aunt's apartment and I got this call saying it was someone from Time Magazine. "Are you going to accept going to Arkansas Medical School?" And, of course, I was amazed. I did not know I was accepted. And he said, "Yes, you are accepted. I want to know, are you going?" I said, "Sure I am going." That was it. He asked a few questions and I hung up and I danced around the apartment. I could not call my mother because she did not have a phone but I sat down and wrote my mother and told her I will be home soon, I will be going to medical school in Little Rock and so forth.
Well, soon thereafter, I packed up and I went to Hot Springs, Arkansas, which is home for me. I had, I guess, about $50 saved over and above my fare. And everybody in Hot Springs where I had grown up, made speeches, had worked for various situations as typists because I could type, knew that I had been accepted. And so, as I got off the train, they gave me a big home welcome, welcome home girl and so forth. And I went to this little 3 room house, outhouse. It was toilet facilities. My mother, by this time, had electric but did not have running water. And the tuition for Arkansas was $500. Tuition for Northwestern and Harvard and many of the other schools, the 12 that I applied to, started no less than $10,000, $15,000. It never dawned to me I would never get that much money but it was as easy for me to get as it was for me to get $300. I could not get $300. I did not know how I was going to . . . and scholarships and grants and so forth. That wasn't even a thing of the thinking then. The government did not give scholarships, the government did not give grants and it was a matter of being able to secure the money.
Well, I came home, announced that I was getting ready to go to medical school.
DG: Did you get accepted to any of the other schools?
EIJ: All of them that I applied.
DG: All of them?
EIJ: Yes. Northwestern, Chicago U. I got second for Meharry and got on the list of Meharry and Howard. Not the first list but the second. I was standby. But all of the schools I applied to accepted me. I understand I was 28th in the nation on the aptitude test that I had learned from being educated in little old Knoxville College. At that time, we only had 300 students. I was accepted but I did not have that kind of money and really wanted to go to Arkansas because it was close to home. But now, I got some offers after the publicity of my being accepted at Arkansas. The University of Chicago offered me, if I would come down and found that it was unpleasant for me to be in the situation in the segregation and so forth. Of course, now, there was never any mention in Arkansas of my being segregated, of my being isolated. There was never any mention. It said I would be accepted as any other student. But it was not important to me that I would be segregated. It was not important to me that any of the other things that seemed to have made a difference to other people, they did not make a difference to me. My focus was getting an education to become a doctor. I came to Hot Springs. The mayor at that time and I am hitting a blank for his name, but he contributed. They stood on the street corner and shook hands. They took up collections after church and I had my $500 and a little bit more. Nickels, quarters, dimes, dollars, half dollars. And when school opened, I never even got an acceptance letter from the school. I never had an interview. Someone called and wanted to know when registration was and found out for me, and one of the club owners in a big, long, white Cadillac, carried me over from Hot Springs to Little Rock to register. I was not very smart. I had all of my money - nickels, quarters, dimes. I did not know you could take it to the bank and put it in big money and I carried it and I counted it out for tuition and I enrolled. I found out that I needed $50 more for laboratory fees, incidentals, and I did not have $50. But I remembered that in riding to class or school, and most of the private black schools were located in the southeast of the United States, and so we were riding segregated trains so it meant that we got thrown together and I met a young man named Thaddeus Williams who lived in Little Rock riding the same train who learned that I had been accepted, that I had applied to medical schools and that if I needed anything, that he would have worked for the state press which was a black newspaper state in Little Rock to let them know and they would help me. I remembered that he told me it was Daisy and Elsie Bates . . . do those names register with you? Have you ever heard them? You are young. Daisy and Elsie Bates spearheaded the NACP and the changes in segregation. Daisy Bates is the lady who walked in the 9, the Little Rock 9, to the senior high school then in Little Rock. Anyway, at that time, she did not have that kind of fame. Well, they owned the paper. "If ever you need anything, you go down and tell them that Thad Williams who worked for them who was now in school, he was at Morehouse, admit you and that I told you to come down and ask." I needed $50 for incidentals. I jumped on the bus, rode down to the State Press and said, "I am looking for Mr. or Mrs. Bates." And she came behind the counter and said, "I am Mrs. Bates. Can I help you?" I said, "I am Edith May Erbe. I have been accepted in medical school and I have had my tuition but I need $50 for incidentals and I don't have it." And she said, "You were accepted in medical school? You need $50?" I said, "Yes." She went behind some books in her office there which was a storefront type office, pulled out of a can $50, gave it to me, I got back on the bus, went back to medical school, paid my $50
[end of side A]
But that evening after I had gotten home, Daisy Bates showed up at where I was living. My aunt's mother had said I could live with her. And she came to find out what else did I need? I said, "Well, they said I am going to need the money to buy books and, as far as I know, that is all I am going to need." She went out to the other black business people - lawyers, doctors - collected $5, $10, and so I was able to get from their contributions enough to buy the books and the other instruments such as microscopes and so forth. I got through medical school. My classmates were simply wonderful to me. There were 2 other girls in the class. They did not accept blacks and they did not accept women. We were sort of clannish with each other except I made friends with many of the fellows and we started studying together. And usually, they would study at my apartment. And we got to be friends, real friends, where color did not make the difference, only whether or not we could cram enough facts in to put a true or false or write the percentage or whatever else the question was. It did not make any difference what color, plus most of the fellows were at least 5 years our senior, the girls' senior. They had gone to the service. They had been with black fellows before. So, segregation or race was not their concern. They, too, wanted to get through medical school.
Well, we got through medical school and it was, for me, a very happy time. It was a learning time. It was being what I wanted to be and doing what I wanted to do and we graduated. Everybody else thought it was fabulous. I did, too, that I got out but not for the same reason they thought, I don't think. But we got out of medical school and I decided I liked it there so much, I was going to stay. And so, I did my first year of residency, pediatrics there, and had just as wonderful time doing the intern residency as I did going to medical school. After that, my mother, who was not very well . . . I decided to go over and live in . . . well, my mother had died by then. My aunt, who was not very well . . . my mother died my sophomore year of medical school. My aunt, who was not very well who was my mother's only sister was living in Hot Springs and I decided that maybe I will go and practice in Hot Springs for a while, and then I will go back and get training later. Well, I went to Hot Springs to practice and Dr. Chenault, who was responsible for my being admitted into medical school, had left the medical school and now was a part of a clinic in Hot Springs. In this clinic, there were multiple disciplines. Surgeons, internal medicine, orthopedics, all the multiples. I had had a straight pediatric residency. They taught me. They taught me how to do surgery, appendectomies, gallbladders, breech deliveries - all the things that I had not learned in medical school and during the internship, they taught me how to do as a part of the clinic. I stayed in Hot Springs for 6 years practicing and I felt overworked. I felt I needed to go back and specialize and see only one segment of those who were ill. My husband and I . . . I have forgotten the fact that I married during the time I was in medical school, but my sophomore year, I fell in love and married. My husband was teaching . . . he was a new professor, had just gotten his doctorate, Ph.D., from the University of Washington and he was the first black at the University of Washington to have a higher degree, but he came to teach at AM&N in Arkansas. We met, we found we had a lot in common and we married. At the end of my internship, I had my first baby, which meant for 9 months during my intern and first year residency, I was pregnant, very pregnant.
Moving to Hot Springs, I had lived there so everybody knew me, so I was overwhelmed with patients. I saw, I am sure, all the black patients - at least I thought I did - and most of the women, and I just felt overwhelmed. But I stayed there for 6 years and enjoyed it. But then, we found that my husband had been asked to come to Texas Southern and I wanted to do a residency. And so, we found that we could come to Houston and we could be together instead of weekends and sometimes during the week because there was 70 miles between Hot Springs and Pine Bluff. You think nothing of traveling 70 miles every day now but with the crooked roads and winding mountains, 70 miles got to be a chore. So, he was only home on weekends and Wednesdays. And we came to Houston. I did a residency at Baylor College of Medicine which, at that time for me, was primarily Veteran's Hospital because they still had laws of segregation. And Dr. Pruitt who was head of the residency then said, "I don't want you to go to" . . . it was Jefferson. What was it? Jefferson Hospital at that time. He said, "Because due to the segregation and so forth, we do not want you there, so if you want to select another place, you can go. You can either go to Methodist here or you can go to" . . . and I was at VA most of the time but they did not have enough women for the experience that I needed . . . "Or you can select someplace else." I had always wanted to be in a black, predominantly medical situation. So, I had met the people in Washington at Howard and I elected to spend 3 months at Howard, in a so-called "black" medical environment. That was enjoyable. What I did find out, there is no difference. We were doing things the same way, the same kind of expectations and so forth.
I came back and I finished my residency with Baylor and decided that I wanted to practice but I wanted to practice the kind of practice that I could see those who needed me most. I wanted to locate in an area where people would have no difficulty getting to me. I wanted to have my overhead so low that I could charge them the least amount, survive, and have them to get the care that they needed. Because I had the opportunity of having met most of the physicians either in hierarchy of medicine or either because I had done a residency at Baylor or because I had, in some way, attended meetings in which the other physicians who were ambitious had attended, I had gotten to know most of the physicians at that time in leadership positions. Now, the population with physicians at that time was not like it is now. I would say we have 100-fold multiplied with physicians in Houston. But I knew most of the physicians. But they had not accepted black physicians to the all white hospitals. Methodist was one. Hermann was one. St. Joseph. Those were the major hospitals at that time. St. Joseph was one. I wanted to practice anywhere and so I applied. Methodist Hospital, I was accepted immediately. No fanfare. I was their first black to have ever been on the staff. St. Joseph Hospital, I applied and they told me they did not have enough colored beds. I did not have time to deal with that. I applied to Hermann Hospital and they told me that Hermann, who had endowed the hospital, had put in the clause that the hospital was for the practice of white male physicians. So, they had had no women and no blacks on their staff. Dr. Crozier, who was that time administrative in state, administrator for years, said, "If you will take it to court, the board of directors will support you and we will see that that was the tenure at the time that Hermann made the endowment for the hospital but certainly is not at this time." So, I told him, "No, Dr. Crozier, I want to practice medicine. I don't want to be involved in any kind of legal situation. I just want to see sick folk and get sick folk well. So, Hermann board of directors took it to court and challenged the charter and had it overturned. So, they accepted me on the staff of Hermann.
Riverside Hospital was an all black hospital located in the Third Ward. I applied there and they accepted me there. St. Elizabeth Hospital was a hospital in the Fifth Ward. It was all black, run by Catholic nuns. I applied there and I was accepted. This meant I had 4 hospitals and a private practice. Well, I did not have time to do anything else but to see patients, get patients well, get involved with medical organizations to enhance the improvement of health care and so forth, and that is what I did. In the meantime, I have almost forgotten the important thing - I had 2 more children. So now, I have 3 children after that, 2 boys and a girl, and a husband who supported me in every situation to support me, to be sure that the children were cared for, that household matters that I did not get to, he helped to get to them, whatever was needed; speeches that I was to make, he frequently wrote the speeches, wrote the outline, handed it to me as I was going out the door, bought the clothes that I was to wear. It was a busy life. It was a busy life but it was a fun life because he was involved in his new job. He was later dean at the college of education, started the higher education Ph.D. at Texas Southern program, the doctorate program. So, we were both busy and we had the children. So, we were very busy. And it has not changed. I am involved in the social life, involved in the benevolent organizations, involved in the things that enhance my being, educating, improving what I was about and most of all, taking care of patients. I have enjoyed taking care of patients. I have enjoyed being in the middle of an area where there was no transportation to me in the beginning. I was just here and we sent out and got patients. We had a little station wagon for patients who could not . . . and we did not have public transportation coming here. We did not have the transportation underwriters now that take poor people. I have enjoyed every minute.
DG: You started your practice in Houston because you wanted to help the people who could not afford . . .
DG: What year was it that you relocated to Houston? What was Houston like?
EIJ: I came to Houston in 1959. Houston, at that time, you could get to know everybody almost in Houston by living in Houston. You could almost walk to most of the places in Houston. We did not have the winding freeways, the underpass. I can almost not even now imagine the change that has occurred. As far as people were concerned, we were able to know most of the people that showed up at any situation, I would say you were bound to know 50% to 70% of them. Downtown was the major shopping. There were no centers like the shopping centers that we have now that are spread out. The courthouse was just what it is called, courthouse - a small building. You did not have the jury building, the other buildings around it. We did not have the tall hotels and other downtown buildings. There was no Galleria. There were none of those other things when I came to Houston that we have now that we take for granted, that are so eloquent.
DG: How about the medical community, the Medical Center?
EIJ: Oh, the Medical Center. The Medical Center at that time consisted of about 5 buildings. There was Methodist Hospital, there was Hermann Hospital, there was M.D. Anderson Hospital. That was it. There was not the massive layout that we have now of the high rises and the other schools and other support systems that we have now. M.D. Anderson was just a small building. Methodist was just a one site building. I am not sure how many beds were available now but certainly, I would say one-tenth of what we have now.
DG: Who were the leading physicians in the Medical Center, in the medical community when you came here?
EIJ: Well, Dr. Crozier had been administrator at Hermann Hospital for years and years and years. Dr. Raymond Pruitt at Methodist was one of the leading, the leading physicians. It has been so long ago, I have almost forgotten who they really were. Dr. Perry. And, as I try to think, I can see them physically and cannot come up with names. Due to my longevity, I cannot just spout the names off at this time.
DG: Not necessary. The two best known physicians at that time in Houston or, not at that time but soon thereafter, became Dr. DeBakey and Dr. Cooley.
EIJ: Oh, there was much after that time. They came along after that time.
DG: Right, but did you have any interaction with either of those two?
EIJ: Yes, Dr. Cooley was ahead of me but we knew him and he came in for consultation. Dr. DeBakey, we knew but at that time, he was not with the residents so much, at least not the medical residents. He may have been with the surgery residents. I got to know both of them. I got to know Dr. DeBakey because when I started in practice, we both made late rounds. At 2 o'clock in the morning, I would be making rounds, particularly at the annex of Methodist Hospital where it was almost his hospital, where he kept his patients being prepared for surgery. Many of these patients were foreign patients. I got to know Dr. DeBakey because we were making rounds at the same time. We had an overwhelming practice. 2 o'clock, 3 o'clock, we both were up and down the halls seeing patients. I got to know Dr. DeBakey because he gave me the privilege of seeing his foreign patients who did not have physicians here in the United States, to work them up for surgery. At that time, we did not have the privilege of having the fact now that we can file on, what are these - the patients who belonged to some group and we could only get private patients or insurance patients. The patients who came as foreign patients did not have insurance nor, at that time, we did not have the dedicated, let's say, organizations who enroll patients and had them to be mandatory for certain physicians. So, they had to have private physicians. This was a time when physicians were selected supposedly on the basis of their reputation and on the basis of what they delivered in terms with their other fellow physicians in the teaching, in the delivering of health care, and not so much on the basis of health care organizations. In fact, we did not have the health care organizations at that time. I am not even sure and do not think we had Medicare at the time when I first started practicing. I know we did not have Medicare in Arkansas. We had a form of health care for the poor but it was not called Medicaid.
DG: I see. Your early years, I mean, Houston is in the south, there were segregation laws in Houston in 1959. How would you describe the experience within the medical community? Were you welcomed universally? Were there issues?
EIJ: There were no issues with me in the medical community. I was primarily at the VA Hospital during my residency, where the United States had any facility which it either owned or managed, could not be segregated. So, there were no segregation issues there. And when I went into Methodist Hospital, which was the other hospital in which my residency with Baylor included, there were no segregation issues there. There were no issues at Methodist Hospital as far as colored, Negroes or whites or different toilets, different fountains. There were not the same issues.
DG: In 1963, you were appointed Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. You had a teaching position at the Baylor College of Medicine. What was that like?
EIJ: It was fun. It was challenging. It gave me an opportunity not only to teach but to learn. You cannot teach unless you do learn. And so, many of the things that you take for granted that you understand and you do them over and over, and if someone asks you for an explanation of why you do it and what are the expectations, you may not be able to tell them if you have not been able to analyze such that you can make somebody else understand. So, it was challenging but it was fun. At that time, I am not sure that they had any blacks in the medical schools as students. They certainly did not have any black faculty. So, I was their experiment, I guess you would say, that worked out satisfactorily.
DG: So, you came in 1959. It is now 2007. Those are a lot of years of practicing medicine. Your office is here in the Third Ward. Can you just sort of give us an overview of how things have changed for people of color, for all Houstonians? Not necessarily the growth of the Medical Center which has been documented by others but here, for someone in the neighborhood practice serving the citizens of the Third Ward, how have things changed for medicine and for the people that you serve?
EIJ: Of course, we have, with the government subsidized health care, we have Medicare, we have Medicaid, we have a big change in that we now have organized care systems in which you can join and be a part of a group and your health care paid is by a selected group of physicians who belong to that group and the organization takes responsibility of seeing that all of your health care needs are met. That is relatively new; new of, I would say, 10, 15 years new. The changes come that you can elect to be private or you can elect to be a system where your health care is governed and controlled by a group. The actual care has not changed. The government, the way that the care is paid for, has changed, but the care itself has not changed. You still have got to know the physical makeup of the patient, you have got to know the disease entities, you have got to know the medications or the procedures for taking care of that patient. So, the care itself has not changed. The surroundings, the attitude towards care, the ability to pay for that care, how that care is paid for has changed but not the care itself.
DG: In addition to your medical service to the community, you have done a few other things. You had a black bookstore. You are a bit of an entrepreneur.
EIJ: I had almost forgotten.
DG: You are a bit of an entrepreneur in the Third Ward. Tell us a little bit about some of the other things that you did outside your world of medicine.
EIJ: Well, I have lived a long time. Yes, due to the paucity of the history of blacks, my husband primarily started a black bookstore, and that was to have young blacks read about what their forefathers had done, why they were in the position they are and why they should take advantage of what they should have. So, to make it available, we put it in the neighborhood and made the books either on a library like - you can check it out and not buy it - you can come in the bookstore and you can read it, or you could purchase it. And with the bookstore came regular sessions of book reviews, lectures, and the other things that go along with educating those about themselves that they need to know in order that they could have pride in being who they are.
DG: Where was that bookstore located?
EIJ: It was across the street from my office, on the corner of Live Oak and Prospect in the Third Ward.
DG: And what happened to it eventually?
EIJ: Well, there were other bookstores, black bookstores, that came up and we felt that we did not need to meet that need, that that need was being met by several other bookstores.
DG: I see. You have had a lot of firsts in your career. In 1985, you were the first female president of the National Medical Association. So, whether as the first female or the first black or the first black female, you have done a lot of pioneering, a lot of ground breaking. Did you have a sense . . . you described it in the course of our conversation as being almost inadvertent. You had your eyes on a goal and you were not really thinking about consciously being first, but in your adulthood, did you have a sense sometimes that it was important to do what you were doing because of the example that you were setting because you were the first?
EIJ: No, I don't think so. I saw things that needed to be done. I just happened to be black and I just happened to be female, and I am not too sure that that played any part in my ambition to have certain things done except to see that they were not done and that maybe no one was doing them at the time, and I had the urge that they had to be done. And, if not me, who? So, I stepped up, took the bat and said, "I'll bat."
DG: I am going to go out of chronology here. Tell us about the Freedom Four.
EIJ: Oh, boy. You know more than I know! Where did you get that?
DG: Well, I understand that you were part of the Freedom Four.
EIJ: Yes. I did not tell you that part.
DG: Well, when focusing on your medical career, but there was a time when you were active in the fight for rights.
EIJ: Yes. Well, that was one of the times. I have always fought for rights for others. I don't know why. I can't tell you why. Whether it was racial, neglect, whether it was poverty, whether it was male/female, whether it was youth and youth and age, whatever tends to cause one to feel less, be less, I felt if I could help them to do so, it was my obligation to do so. Someone had always helped me so much and I had reaped what I thought was such great benefit, maybe not great to anybody else but to me, the fact that I could put on a dress and walk down the street and people, even as a little girl, would recognize me as, "Well, there is Edith. She is precious." And there were some girls who did not get that. So, I wanted them to have a dress just like mine so somebody would pass by them and give them the same feeling. And I equate that to the elderly, the poor, the female who feels trapped by the fact that she thinks she is female and cannot do certain things. I do not know why I feel that way. I just feel so satisfied when I help someone. I do not know why I do.
DG: Well, the Freedom Four . . .
EIJ: The Freedom Four was made up, except for me, of attorneys. Attorney Harold Flowers, Attorney Bob Booker, and I am blocking on the other attorney.
DG: Floyd Davis.
EIJ: Floyd Davis. I told you you know better than I do. Yes. It was during the time that I was in medical school, and when things were still segregated, and students were being in classrooms underheated, big belly - they called them stoves with not enough wood to keep the fire burning. Getting books that had been given to students previously that came to be given to those who were black that had pages torn out, marked all over with crayon. In other words, less than what they should have. And that was when separate but equal. That was before Brown v. The School Board. I was in medical school then so you don't have much, do you? I was in medical school. They would study frequently in my apartment. And we got out of school around 4 or 5 o'clock. Would come sometimes to my apartment, sometimes elsewhere, but we would grab a sandwich or whatever was there available, eat it, we would sit on floors and couches and beds and study until about 7 o'clock, and everybody would go home. They would come by and pick me up and I was ready for the night. And we would go to the churches, to the rallies and said, you don't have to accept this inequality. It is separate but equal but you can demand that they don't give you these books. You can demand that you have a proper place, that your children do not have to come and sit in the classroom with their coats on because they are cold and all the other things that were degrading or dehumanizing. The amazing thing is that because I knew if I would get caught . . . as you notice, these were 3 men. They were attorneys. All were attorneys but me. I would ride usually with Attorney Flowers who had a big, long black Cadillac, shiny and new. So, no one could miss him when he would go into these little communities. But we would go in and we knew if we got caught, I would be expelled from school, they would be jailed for what they would cause inciting a riot. So, what they would do was to go in, we would make the speeches to the people who would usually gather in a church, and we would tell them what their rights were and what procedures to take, and we would get in the car and drive away. If we got caught before we got to the county line, we could be arrested. It did not make sense but a lot of things do not make sense. But if you got over the county line, the sheriff on the other line could not arrest you because you did not commit a crime in his territory. It does not make sense, does it? But anyway, that went on for many years most of the time that I was in medical school.
We made speeches. I made speeches. They did, too, at not only the churches but NAACP meetings, home gatherings, wherever we could get a group of people who were willing to be helped. Now, because of the possibility of my being expelled from school for being . . . they were attorneys, so they were in private practice. Nobody was going to bother them unless they were caught breaking the law. But because of my outside activities, I had to keep mine quiet. So, what they would do for me was to drive me to this funeral home where they would put me in the hearse, bring me back to the city, put me in another car and take me to my apartment. Crazy, isn't it?
DG: I have to ask, as important as becoming a doctor was to you, the fact that you could have been expelled or caught suggested this was very, very important to you, that this was very important work.
EIJ: It was very important. Yes, I knew that if I had gotten caught, I probably would have been expelled but I had behind me support of schools like University of Chicago, Northwestern who said, if anything went wrong there, we will take you. And I felt that I could complete my cause, that I was helping other people reach a point of being able to live in some kind of dignity and I was willing to sacrifice myself if I had to, to have it happen.
DG: What brought you in contact with Dr. King? What was that like?
EIJ: What brought me in contact with him? We were on the same accord. I believe it was, the first time, it was a group where Knoxville College had gone to Atlanta and I was part of that group. It was meeting in his church of college students. I am not sure if it was NAACP or if it was the YWCA. It was a group in which the college sent me as a representative. It was invigorating. He was so humble. He was so non-overpowering. I guess that is the word you would use . . . that you bonded with him almost immediately. It was like, yes, we can do it. You did not feel like he is here and you are there. You felt like we are here together and we are going to do it. [end of tape 1]
I don't know any other way of expressing it except a feeling of bonding.
DG: Your activism has brought you together with Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton and Barbara Jordan.
EIJ: And the president from here, that old boy.
DG: George Bush?
EIJ: President Bush did invite me to Washington to do a dinner for me. I did not go. But I have no personal relationship with him. I am not sure why I got the invitation but I did not go. President Johnson was probably one of the ones who most inspired me and I suppose I had more contact with him than any of the other presidents.
DG: How about Barbara Jordan? What was your experience with her?
EIJ: I was a little older than Barbara. Barbara and I were sorority sisters. We frequently traveled together to make speeches. Barbara was a big girl in size that is. At that time, I was very thin and weighed about 95 pounds at the most. That was before Barbara lost weight. Barbara was about 200+ pounds. But we made a pair, speaking pair, because I was able to go with a less demanding kind of voice and then to have Barbara to follow me with this booming, tantalizing kind of voice, not only was an inspiration to those she was speaking to but it was an inspiration to me. Barbara was younger than me. My husband was one of Barbara's coaches and, I must admit, he was one of my coaches, too, after we met. But she was a great lady, a great lady.
DG: I know our focus is on Houston and on Texas but you have done a lot for health care efforts in Haiti and Africa and China and Russia. Can you tell us for the record a little bit about your involvement outside of the United States?
EIJ: Well, I just did what I saw needed to be done. I suppose I did not do so much as I gave the people their hope. As one person, you cannot do so much but you can plant seeds with many people and they can do much. I did different things in different places. In Haiti, I would say my biggest contribution was inspiring a young man who went to Johns Hopkins here as a student from Haiti, who came to visit me in this setting, my setting here as I have it now, because I had made a speech maybe at the school or some setting and he wanted to see what my practice was. And he liked the idea that I was seeing the underserved and letting the crowds come and serve them to my capacity. He said, "You know, that is what I want to do." When I went to visit in Haiti, I met his father who had been an official in the government there, had money, and had land, and was able to help him. But this young man wanted to go back to Boston and do it in a deprived neighborhood in Boston. I can remember that Mickey Leland who was a congressman from Houston went with me to Haiti, and we saw what the Haitians were like and how deprived and their health care. And I said to this young man, "You should stay at home. You don't need to go to Boston." And we were able to get 40 acres of land given to us. People donated beds. The countries like Germany, France, and Cuba, donated services. They required their graduating students to do 1 year of non-paid . . . they paid them a small stipend but that was experience. And we were able to get 4 students from all of those countries to come and to work the clinic. So, in addition to one spot, they were able to spread out over the hills and in the valleys. This young man just took the ball and just ran with it and has been able to not only serve a few folks, but has been able to serve primarily the whole country of Haiti. So, I would say through inspiration, through exposing him to what I was doing here, was how we were able to get things done there.
In Russia, I don't know how I got that opportunity. Oh, I do. I remember now. They just gave me an award. The American College of Physicians, the Texas branch, gave me the Laureate Award. That is the highest award that they can give any physician from the Texas American College of Physicians. How I got to other countries. It was through the American College of Physicians, that they wanted someone to go to Russia, to China, to Italy, and I have forgotten the other countries now, to lecture. And they selected me to be one of them. I was 1 of 3 women and the only black to be in the group. And in going into China, we were the first women to go into China since they had opened their doors. When they had their 25 year lockdown because of the use of poisoning narcotics or drugging the Chinese, and we were the first women to go in. I was the first black woman they had ever seen. So, I would go to the restroom and, of course, at that time, they were wearing drab clothes, pants that looked like dungarees now, and I went in with my lace slips and loud colors on. So, when I would go to the ladies restroom, they would want to see what I was made of. And then, of course, they had some dark colors but not quite as dark as I am. And they would see if I would rub off, you know, if I had some kind of makeup on that darkened me. But most of all, it was a wonderful experience of lecturing on health care from Providence to Providence. Most of them could speak English or they had an interpreter. I did the same thing for Russia. I traveled all over Russia speaking about health care, health care organizations and how to get it together.
I went to Italy. I went to Africa. Where else did I go? Wherever they would let me go. And carried the word that they can have a better life and they can make a better life for themselves.
DG: Let's come back to Houston. We are here on Prospect Street, just east of 288. Just west of 288 is the Medical Center with its tall buildings and fancy offices and physicians who have dedicated themselves to medicine but in a different way. You stayed true to your promise. You have been here in the Third Ward since you opened the practice here. As a summary, can you tell us why that has always been your mission, why you have remained true to it, what you think you are doing here in Houston over here in the Third Ward?
EIJ: But I have been intricately related to the Medical Center. I take my patients there. Methodist Hospital. Hermann Hospital. St. Luke's Hospital. I use them frequently. I am on the active staff. I participate in the issues of the hospital. I am on committees of the hospitals. So, it is not that I have isolated myself over here, I have placed myself over here but I have my reactions, all of my consultations and I get all of the privileges of being able to do both. There are patients that I have who want to be in that setting and I take them in that setting. The physicians, however, support me there and they support me here. They understand what I am about and help me to be about that. I keep my committee appointments over there. I still teach at both Baylor and UT. I just received the professorship chair from Cornell University which now is at Methodist Hospital since Baylor moved to St. Luke's. So, I am active with all 3 schools. I still have students who come and work with me here in the office, who learn what I do here to get this as an experience. I do it for the state as well as I do it for the medical schools.
DG: I am sitting in a room that is literally covered from floor to ceiling, wall to wall with awards and recognitions.
EIJ: I put them out because . . . and not only that, I have not been home also from wall to wall . . . because when people come, they want to know, where is that certificate we gave you? And when I know they are coming, I locate it and have it out. And so, I display for that reason. So, not only they would know that I appreciate it but I do it for another reason: to let the young boys and girls who come here, and I do examinations for school physicals and I do it for free, I do it for whatever they want to pay. If their insurance can pay, fine; if they can't pay, well, come on in, we will do it. I want them to see that they don't have to have lots of money, they don't have to look like some folk think they need to look with blonde hair, blue eyes. I have the blonds and the blue eyes. They come. But they also feel comfortable because they know, too, that I am not just to elevate a certain segment but all mankind. All mankind.
DG: Which recognition has meant the most to you?
EIJ: I do not know. I guess it would not be a recognition from any group. It would be some child, probably young person, and I have had many, to return shouting through the door, "Look, Dr. Jones. I did it!" And is to hold out a degree or some possible aspiration that they had that they said they heard me speak and heard my story and on that, they were able to push ahead. I guess if that is really the satisfaction to know that I have inspired someone to go above that which they were made to feel because of who they were born to, where they were born, or what they had or did not have as to make them, I would think that that might be my contribution; that it is up to you, not up to them to be what you need to be.
DG: And, as a final thought, how has Houston served as a place where those kinds of dreams can come true?
EIJ: I think Houston is a haven for those kinds of dreams. I think we need to continue as we are doing. I think we must learn to let each of us be different as we are different, let each of us know that we are our brothers' keeper because if our brother does not do well, we won't do well; because if we live next to a neighbor who does not have and we have, we might find ourselves unwilling sharing. Why not share and have that neighbor to get what we have without taking it from us?
DG: I see. Any final thought. 10 years from now, 15 years from now?
EIJ: You know, I would just love to be here and see. I cannot imagine. You know, I just cannot imagine where we are today. I cannot imagine walking around in outer space, taking up tons of concrete and adding it on, and saying you are sending up a crew to walk around and stay up there for one month. I cannot imagine what the world is going to be like in 10 years. I would like to be here to see. The progress that we have made in human relations, the progress that we have made in physical things, that we indeed are bringing heaven here on earth, and that generations and generations will reap the benefit from what we are doing today and that we must not forget that what we send into the lives of others does come back into our own.
DG: And in closing, Dr. Jones, what is the lesson that young people should take from your life, from your example? We talked a little bit about, before we turned the camera on - is the benefits of perseverance, is it the fact that you can do anything you want to do? What should people gain from your life and your life story?
EIJ: I don't know. I don't know that I have done something so different. I certainly have not done anything so big. I have gotten up every day and I have tried to see the good in everything. I have tried to understand when my ideas were not concurrent with some of the ideas that I felt injurious to me or those about me. I tried to understand human nature and I have tried to be that change when that change was good. I would hope that I would have made at least a segment better by my having lived and having taken the path that I have taken. I certainly have been overwhelmingly rewarded. I could not ask any more from life than I have gotten. I am overjoyed that I have lived now for 80 glorious years. I would like to live forever but they tell me heaven is forever and I look forward to one day, joining those who have made great contributions, to rejoicing with them and saying, "Didn't we make life better for a lot of people?"
DG: Your dad was right. You got your pennies back. Thank you, Dr. Jones.
EIJ: Bless you.