Dr. Jether M. Jones Jr

By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO

Often when asked what kind of doctor my dad, the late Dr. Jether M. Jones Jr., was, I responded, “My dad was a doctor who made house calls.” As a youngster, his house calls (along with patients’ visits to our home) were so commonplace that they became a normal part of family life. His black bag was always with him.

When he opened his practice in the mid-1950s, joining Dr. Ralph Young on East Monument Street and providing care at Baltimore City Health Department’s Caroline Street Clinic, both locations were smack dab in the middle of the East Baltimore community that raised him. Many of his patients were the neighbors, friends, teachers, and other community members whose homes and businesses he passed daily, as he walked from the 1200 block of Biddle St. to Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and who checked on his progress when he returned home to the 600 block of Eden Street from his time at Lincoln University, the U.S. Army, and Meharry Medical College. 

The patients I was lucky enough to meet, whether at his office, on a house call, or in our home, always seemed like old friends or family members. Some closer than others… But, many of them were the folks who had pushed him and supported his goal to become a physician, with some even slipping a few dollars in his pocket, along with their words of encouragement, to help him along the way.

Dr. Jones served the East Baltimore community that raised him. Many of his patients were the neighbors, friends, teachers, and other community members whose homes and businesses he passed daily.

His official work schedule included days and times designated for regular office hours, clinic coverage, house calls, and hospital visits, with one weekday and Sundays off. That was not the schedule he followed. If a patient needed to be seen, especially an elder, he found a way to accommodate that need. Sometimes, that meant slipping in a house call on a day off or adding it to the end of a busy day; calling in a prescription and delivering it during the visit; or providing available sample medications. Other times, it meant having the patient meet him at our home, a courtesy he extended only to a select few. 

Although those practices made his day longer, he never seemed to mind. My mother, I’m certain, had a different story. While she never showed it, I can’t imagine that the appearance of unexpected visitors at the end of her day (or on what was supposed to be a day off) was a welcome surprise. Still, that never kept her from welcoming his patients (sometimes, the whole family), and offering and serving them something to eat and drink during the visit.

Dr. Jones received house calls so often that he always carried his black bag with him.

While my dad was generous with his time, she knew that a visit to our home meant there was an urgent concern that could not wait, and an accompanying family meant that there’d been no other choice. Patients knew where we lived and our home phone number, but the drop-in visits that I recall involved blood, stitches, and/or an emergency trip to the hospital. 

When I was younger, I romanticized my dad’s role as a doctor in the community. As I got older, I came to understand that it was intentional and by design. During my father’s youth, Black communities were mostly comprised of recent transplants from the south, participants in the Great Migration. They knew that they would need doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals to address their needs. He and many of his generation benefited from the support of their communities to achieve those lofty professional goals. As a result, they supported their respective communities, in return. It was destined to be their way of life.

 

Jannette J. Witmyer

Special to the AFRO