By Sarah Carlson
Photography by Doug Hodel
Stepping into the Abilene office of Clyde M. Morgan, M.D., is like stepping back in time.
Even its exterior gives that away: dark brown brick, avocado green wood trim and mosaic tile accents reflecting 1960s chic. It hasn’t changed a lick, but then again, you get the feeling its proprietor hasn’t, either.
Morgan has steadfastly worked at the 1166 Merchant St. office since he opened it in January 1961, serving the Big Country first as a family practice physician and later as a procedural dermatologist. The present tense is key here – he’s still going.
At 92 years old.
He holds office hours and sees patients five days a week – but only in the mornings, he adds.
“I don’t work very hard anymore,” he says, grinning.
A mobile of World War II-era aircraft sways above Morgan’s head as he sits at his desk one March morning, a nod to his early career as an Army Air Corps lieutenant who spent 13 months in Cairo, Egypt, and Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during the war. There, the young man who grew up on a farm in South Texas as one of six children during the Great Depression, attending a one-room school with two or sometimes three classmates, was the personal pilot to King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia.
Morgan piloted a Douglas Aircraft C-47 given to Saud by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a royal crest of crossed swords symbolizing justice and strength painted on its nose. Morgan describes it and his entire war experience in great detail in his 2010 book The 2766th Provisional Headquarters Flight WWII: “The King’s C-47 had the original bright unpainted aluminum skin that shined in the desert sun as if it were covered with ten thousand diamonds.”
In fact, Morgan is more likely to refer you to his publication rather than go into too much detail in person. Asked to describe key experiences of his from the war, he responded, “You’ll have to read the book.”
Well, the war did end 70 years ago. Plus, his book is available to purchase on Amazon.com.
Morgan played a diplomatic role in the strategic relationship between Saud and Roosevelt, Saudi Arabia’s oil of course playing its own part. He’d started in the Army Air Corps as an aircraft mechanic, working at then-Kelly Field in San Antonio after leaving his home in Uvalde.
“One day out on the north end of Kelly Field, I was inspecting an airplane and got to watching airplanes land,” he says. “I decided I was on the wrong end of it.”
After the war, he returned to Texas but headed north and west to Abilene Christian College, graduating in ’48. On to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, where he studied under Clarence S. Livingood, M.D., who coauthored the Military Manual on Dermatology during his own time in World War II.
“I just loved him,” Morgan says. “The manual was so well written I had it almost memorized.”
Livingood left for a position in Detroit, but Morgan stayed – and stayed with dermatology.
He practiced first in San Antonio and then in Abilene, where his mother had moved. In a tragic turn of events in Morgan’s life, his father was murdered over an apparent land dispute outside Uvalde when Morgan was 11.
Morgan’s dermatology expertise grew and branched out.
“I don’t remember how I got interested in cryosurgery, but I’ve lectured all over the world and given papers on it,” he says.
He rummages around his desk and finds examples of published works and lectures from just about everywhere – “I could pull stuff out here probably for an hour” – including Calcutta for the Indian Cryogenics Council in 1982.
He is well known around the world and well loved at home, especially by his staff. Office manager Robbin Cupps, who makes a mean cup of coffee, tears up as she recalls times Morgan would close the office early and reschedule appointments so she could attend her son Slade’s Jim Ned High School basketball playoff games. Her mother Jerene Holt and daughter Courtney Kincaid would come along, too – they also work for Morgan, as his receptionist and nurse, respectively.
“It was really special to us,” Cupps says. “He’d say, ‘Well ladies, we’ve got a game to get to,’ and close up. A lot of doctors wouldn’t do that. He’s probably the most honorable man I’ve ever met.”
Morgan’s voice is soft and measured, his hands and eyes steady. He talks of a life well lived though not always easy; his wife, Birdie Joyce Morgan, suffered from the effects of a stroke for years until she died in 2009. They were married nearly 58 years.
That major change in life’s plans plays a part in why he’s still in Abilene and still going. He owns land in Fort Clark, Texas, and always thought he’d retire and build a house there.
Still, he’s content where he’s at – “As long as there’s a need, you want to work,” he says.
He has three children, four grandchildren and too many great-grandchildren to count. He pauses more than once when asked for advice on living a long, pleasant life.
“I think believing in God” is key, he says. “If you can’t believe in God, you’re gonna have a hard time. Just live one day at a time. Attitude has a lot to do with it.”
The name embroidered on his white physician’s coat is half faded, but one gets the impression it hasn’t replaced because it simply doesn’t need an update.
Neither does the person wearing it.