A prominent local surgeon, and co-founder of the Fine Arts Association of Southeastern Kentucky, passed away last Friday. He is being remembered this week as a humble, kind community servant whose contributions to his town will live on for years to come.
Dr. Harry A. Hamilton Jr., 90, died at The Heritage nursing home in Corbin. His son, Mark Hamilton, said his father his passion for helping people made him shine in his profession.
“He poured his heart and soul and everything into taking care of people,” Mark Hamilton said. “He didn’t get into medicine to make money. He never asked anybody if they could pay. If somebody was sick and they needed care, he took care of them. Sometimes he got paid and sometimes he didn’t.”
“He definitely found his niche in life,” he added. “He was born to do what he did.”
Hamilton, a native of Louisville, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Louisville. Initially, he followed some friends to Louisiana to attend LSU to study engineering. He soon changed his mind and joined the U.S. Air Force and became a fighter pilot flying P51fighter-bombers.
When Hamilton left the military, he enrolled in medical school at the University of Louisville and graduated from its School of Medicine as a general surgeon. He moved his family to Corbin in 1961 where he joined in practice with the late Dr. Harold Barton.
Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus, Barton’s daughter, said Hamilton came along at just the right time.
“He was a wonderful man. He took a lot of pressure off of my dad when he came to Corbin and joined the practice,” Razmus said. “He was a blessing to our community.”
Hamilton was an old-style general surgeon who would perform just about any procedure, often times in the most pressure-filled and dire situations. His daughter, Becky Brewer, said she remembers watching her dad perform surgeries at the hospital surrounded by emergency staff. She’d be right in the room with him.
“He used to let me go to the hospital with him. He would put a stool by the table so I could stand on it and watch,” Brewer said. “It would be everything … appendectomies or gunshot wounds, whatever. I just thought it was fantastic.”
Mark Hamilton said the first surgery his father performed in Corbin was an emergency cesarean section on an expectant mother.
“He was on call his first weekend in Corbin. That was at a time where there was no interstate highway. We didn’t have helicopters all over the place. It was a bad situation and the mother had to have that baby,” Hamilton said. “He said he’d seen the procedure performed before and figured he could do it. He did, and he did a lot more after that. The baby did great. He was always prepared and he was amazing under pressure.”
Hamilton has been described by just about anyone that new him as extremely mild mannered and kind. Both Brewer and Hamilton said he was a patient, loving father — never easy to anger, but with clear moral lines that would not be crossed.
“He was just such a good man and father to us,” Mark Hamilton said. “I’m going to speak at his funeral. I hope I can get through it. He was just such a great example to us.”
Brewer said her father took his commitment to healing the community seriously and would always respond to calls, day or night.
“Back in those days, we were in the phone book. People would just look up his number and call the house or just come to the house. He’d always help them,” she said. “He’d meet people at the hospital. Whatever he had to do, he’d do it.”
She recalled one time when police located her father while he was enjoying a day at Laurel Lake. They needed him to help a car crash victim. He left immediately to perform emergency surgery.
One of the great passions of Dr. Hamilton’s life was the Fine Arts Association of Southeastern Kentucky. Dr. Hamilton was instrumental in helping his wife start the organization and was in staunch support of it to his death.
“He loved the fine arts. I remember we had a pretty good size dining room table and mom would have fliers laid out ready to send to people to request donations and to get people to join. It was like an assembly line. He loved it; every part of it,” Hamilton said.
Betty Comer, owner of Gibson’s Music in downtown Corbin and Program Chair of the Fine Arts Association, said Dr. Hamilton’s contribution to the organization would never be forgotten.
“In the 40 years I’ve been involved in the Fine Arts Association, it was always evident that Dr. Harry and Betty were definitely a team,” Comer said. “Their home was the center of many hours of stuffing and addressing envelopes with pad and pencil … there were not computers to store mailing lists and databases. The Hamilton’s inspired all of the many volunteers and we are proudly planning our 58th season of first class entertainment.”
Dr. Hamilton practiced medicine for 36 years in Corbin before retiring. He is survived by his three children, Mark Hamilton, Becky Brewer and Lynn Coile.
Visitation for Dr. Hamilton will take place Thursday, 3:30 p.m. at Vankirk-Grisell Funeral Home. His life will be celebrated at 5:30 p.m.