On an icy night more than three decades ago, William D. Tate called longtime friend and physician Dr. Carlton Pittard to say his 7-month-pregnant wife woke up in the middle of the night bleeding badly.
Pittard marshaled his forces, getting the Grapevine hospital where he worked prepared, sending out alerts to find blood and lining up a sparse surgical team.
“She was bleeding to death,” Pittard said. “It was horribly icy. It couldn’t have been a worse night.”
Pittard performed emergency surgery and, to everyone’s surprise, he not only delivered one girl, but two. Each weighed less than four pounds.
“Bill said, ‘These things look like little rats,’ ” Pittard said with a laugh.
Tate recalled the incident recently: “They’re 36 now.”
So it was more than a ceremonial function April 15 when Tate, longtime mayor of Grapevine, presented his good friend with a certificate of recognition for his more than 50 years of service to the Grapevine medical community. The honor was tied in to Pittard’s retirement from active practice earlier this year.
Tate relayed a brief biography of the 82-year-old doctor’s service, saving the life-and-death story for a Star-Telegram reporter after the meeting.
Pittard was born in Longview in 1931. The family later moved to Austin where they lived in the same house with his mother, aunt, uncle and grandfather until he graduated from high school.
He attended the University of Texas at Austin from 1950 until 1953 and then UT Medical School at Galveston from 1953 to 1957. He paid his own way, working hospital jobs such as an orderly and a nurse’s aide.
“When I graduated, I owed $2,000,” Pittard said. “And I paid that off quickly.”
Asked how he made his decision to become a doctor, he said simply, “It was a God deal.”
“There’s a joy in medicine and knowing that I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing,” Pittard said.
He said his gift is “the ability to help people and do it effectively and do it early.”
Pittard, a member of First Baptist Church in Dallas, said his desire has been to serve God through his medical practice in order “to help as many people as possible.”
He did his internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans from 1957 to 1958.
“We saw everything there,” Pittard said.
He began active duty and worked on a surgical team for the U. S. Public Health Service in Memphis, Tenn., from 1958 to 1960. He was stationed as the “physician aboard” the USS Campbell, a Coast Guard cutter.
“I got a lot of surgical training and experience during that time,” Pittard said.
After graduating from medical school and completing his general internship and surgery training, “the next step was to find a place to start my practice.”
“I looked through the Texas Medical Association classifieds for places that were looking for doctors,” Pittard said. “And there it was: two doctors looking to expand their small practice in a small, out-of-the-way town that I had never heard of — Grapevine, Texas.”
Pittard moved to Grapevine on July 1, 1960, and began working with Ed and Minnie Lee Lancaster at the Grapevine Clinic.
“It was a little clinic,” the doctor said. “I don’t know how we treated as many people as we did.”
In 1967, he partnered with the Lancasters in starting the 25-bed Grapevine Memorial Hospital, using a $450K mortgage loan for financing. Aided by the generosity of Clara Stewart Watson, a major addition added 30 more beds to the hospital in 1974.
Grapevine Clinic moved to a space attached to the new hospital and the doctors practiced under the name of Lancaster-Pittard Professional Association.
“We did a lot of amazing surgeries and delivered a lot of babies,” Pittard said.
As the area began to grow and medical science began to develop at a rapid rate, it became clear that the future would require resources beyond their abilities.
In 1981, Baylor University Medical Center purchased the hospital from the Ann B. Lancaster Foundation.
In 1975, Lancaster-Pittard Professional Association opened a second clinic at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport under the name of the Airport Clinic, working nights and weekends at that facility. The clinic was closed in 1983.
Of his time there, Pittard said, admitting to exaggerating somewhat, “We worked 170 hours every week; we were on call 24-7.”
But, he said, “it was an exciting time.”
Dr. Pittard was in family practice in Grapevine for more than 50 years and a general surgeon for 40 years. He was a certified air medical examiner for 43 years.
He diagnosed and treated diseases such as leprosy, polio, elephantiasis, parasite blindness, tropical ulcers and tuberculosis. He performed thousands of surgical procedures.
At times, staff and family lamented the time he devoted to each patient because it cut so much into his personal time.
“People hate spending time in the waiting room but love the attention they get when they’re in there with me,” Pittard said, who has charts on patients going back more than four decades.
Gladys Brewer, 90, has been a patient for 43 years.
“I think the world of him because of his caring for his patients,” she said. “He looks at them as a person. He remembers things new doctors don’t even know about anymore.”
The mother of four said when she received word in the mail of his retirement, “It broke my heart.”
His secret to a long life: exercise, weight control, keeping blood pressure in check and watching with a doctor’s help numbers such as cholesterol. And he advises to see a doctor regularly, especially in later years.
“Prevention is where you really help people,” Pittard said.
His impact in Grapevine extends beyond medical.
He helped organize the second bank in Grapevine, the American Bank of Commerce, where he served as chairman of the board for 17 years. He owned Mark II Realty in Grapevine for 20 years.
He was elected and served on the Grapevine City Council from 1975 to 1978, where he worked to improve the city’s telephone service.
Pittard also served as president of the Grapevine Chamber of Commerce in 1975.
So it was no surprise to anyone that hundreds of people showed up at his retirement party at the Lancaster Theatre recently.
“He’s done a lot for our community,” the mayor said.
Although he knows it’s time to retire, Pittard said, “I didn’t want to.”
At first, he said, “It’s going to be hard to fill my days.”
Then he talked of how he loves the great outdoors, and hunts and fishes and operates his ranch near Sunset. He works at least one day a week at the ranch.
He received a ranch management certification from Texas Christian University in 1989. He has hunted in Arizona, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and South Dakota, among other places. Some of his trophies are moose, elk, a mountain goat, deer and bear. He also enjoys playing the clarinet, working out, water skiing, fencing, bowling, tennis and walking on the treadmill.
The father of five and grandfather of 12 has begun to enjoy the new time off.
Instead of getting up at 5 a.m., he rises at 10 a.m. or later. His wife of 39 years, Lanis, fixes him a “humongous breakfast,” something he never expected her to do during his predawn schedule.
Lanis said it’s the least she can do for a man “who had delivered half of Grapevine’s children and many of their children.”
Pittard said he is leaving his post at Comprehensive Family Medical in good hands, referring his patients to Dr. Ashley Green, who is “a real sweetheart with a good attitude.”
Green said of her mentor, “He’s got his patients spoiled. I’ve got two patients who have been with him for 50 years.”
He still plans faith-based medical mission trips to other countries. His resume includes trips to El Salvador, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Russia, Uganda and Ukraine.
He remembers on one trip to Kenya “seeing about 500 patients a day.”
Pittard couldn’t think of a better place to retire.
“Grapevine is a nice little town,” the former city councilman said. “I look forward to catching up on my chores.”
But he said it still will be a little strange no longer doing what he says he was born to do — something that gave him the happiness of “getting up looking forward to the day.”
“I loved my job all the time,” Pittard said. “I wanted to help people and I didn’t want to disappoint them.”
But Pittard said he will offer medical advice to those who seek him out — just not on a regular schedule.
“I will miss the responsibility of helping, but I’ll take the extra time,” the octogenarian said.