Doctor’s work, life cherished by friends

Published 12:12am Saturday, July 6, 2013

NATCHEZ — Natchez residents are mourning the loss of a pediatrician, historic preservationist, gardener and an avid traveler.

Dr. William Felix Calhoun Jr., 87, died Thursday at St. Dominic Hospital in Jackson.

Friends described Calhoun with a myriad of adjectives — sophisticated, smart, charming and personable. But nothing portrays his personality quite as well as the stories he left behind, life-long friend Dr. Robert Barnes said.

“There was a hotel just outside of Natchez that had a wonderful restaurant,” Barnes said. “I remember seeing him one time reading the Times-Picayune and drinking a martini.”070613 Dr.WmCalhounJr. obitpic

Barnes and Calhoun met in medical school at Tulane Univeristy in 1942. After graduation, both men took jobs in Natchez in the early 1950s.

Both men came to Natchez when the city was expanding. At the time, International Paper and Armstrong Tire Company plants were booming. As a result, Barnes said the city was in dire need of well-trained doctors.

Barnes said Calhoun was vital to Natchez joining the world of modern medicine.

“Natchez was a small town, it was a little out of the way,” he said. “But Bill helped bring modern medicine to the city. He was one of the first specialists to come to the city.”

Calhoun’s patients also speak highly of him. Though he was passionate about medicine, Kathie Blankenstein said he enjoyed a good laugh. Blankenstein told a story that, she said, characterized his personality perfectly.

“I was smoking a cigarette when the phone rang, so I set the ashtray just out of reach of my child,” Blankenstein said. “When I came back, she had pulled the whole thing into the play pen and had eaten the burning cigarette.”

Blankenstein said she called Calhoun in a panic. He paused for a minute before answering.

“Well Kathie, if I was you, I would put her in the circus,” she recalled Calhoun joking.

Calhoun was more than a pediatrician, Barnes said. He also enjoyed history. As a result, Calhoun purchased the historic Elgin Plantation in 1976.

The house is largely the creation of Dr. John Carmichael Jenkins, who purchased the plantation in 1840, Executive Director of Historic Natchez Foundation Mimi Miller said.

After purchasing the house, Calhoun and his wife Ruth Ellen Green Calhoun restored Elgin to its 19th-century glory.

“The Calhouns have always opened Elgin’s doors to friends and strangers who were warmly welcomed and entertained,” Miller said. “They have also contributed to the community’s heritage tourism economy by opening Elgin to the traveling public through the Natchez Pilgrimage.”

Stories about Calhoun are plentiful in the Miss-Lou. Local attorney Marion Smith described Calhoun as a well-round man, who could hold an educated conversation on any topic.

“I admired him in both respects, personally and professionally,” Smith said.

Calhoun is survived by his wife, three children and a number of other relatives.

Services for Calhoun will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Trinity Episcopal Church. Visitation will be from 2 p.m. until service time at the church.