Ozark County native is surely one of few doctors without a high school diploma
Editor’s note: This is the conclusion of a two-part story about Ozark County native Winsor “Verd” Morrison that is reprinted with permission from the Ozarks Alive! blog by Kaitlyn McConnell. Part 1 of the story, “Ozark County native delivered the first baby in state of Alaska,” was published in last week’s Times. To read more of McConnell’s posts, visit ozarksalive.com
By Kaitlyn McConnell, Ozarks Alive!
After World War II, Verd and Byrdella Morrison came back to the Ozarks and ended up on the square in West Plains — literally.
After their experience working for the ice cream company in Arizona, the young couple opened the Cinderella Confectionary along with Morrison’s brother-in-law and sister. It soon became a popular gathering place for locals.
“It was the hottest place in town,” says Morrison, noting one particular factor that worked in their favor. “Immediately after the war, sugar was still rationed, but I was a veteran, and they let me have all I needed.”
The spot introduced him to a couple of famous faces, beginning with Porter Wagoner. In those days, though, Wagoner held packages of meat rather than microphones.
“He was the butcher at Sid Vaughn’s market. He’d grind hamburger and bring it down for us to use and sell,” says Morrison. “We’d call up there, ‘Porter, bring us down some hamburger meat.”
It also allowed Morrison the chance to be future baseball legend Bill Virdon’s manager.
“The old Dr. Pepper manager there once had a little baseball team in West Plains. For some reason, since I was a customer of his, he asked me to manage that little team, and Bill Virdon was the shortstop on that team,” says Morrison of the Ozarker who grew up to be a star player for the Pittsburgh Pirates. “I like to kid people and say, ‘I used to be his manager.’”
During those confectionary days, Morrison began preparing for a career change after the radio crackled some news: A story said that a limited amount of time remained for men to use their GI Bill assistance after World War II.
“So I thought, ‘Man, I need to use that before it expires,’” he recalls.
After getting his General Education Diploma (GED), Morrison planned to join the Missouri State Highway Patrol. But after realizing that the patrol’s application period had closed for the year, he considered another career: medicine.
The University of Missouri-Columbia was happy to help make that happen. Taking into account his scores on the four-part entrance exam and his commission in the Army Air Corps, it enrolled Morrison as a second-year student.
“I went back to visit my friends in West Plains, and I said, ‘Well, I’m a sophomore now,” says Morrison of a visit shortly after his enrollment, still laughing at his friends’ reaction: “What?!”
That quick advancement was followed by challenging semesters, especially for someone who hadn’t had much formal education beyond a few months of high school. The pressure intensified after Morrison decided to build himself a house while attending classes — which ultimately became a great resume builder.
“When I went before the admission committee at the medical school and told them I’d built that house while taking organic chemistry, they wanted to talk more about the house than my education,” says Morrison. “So I got admitted to medical school. A lot of people applied, but I got admitted.”
Fast forward four years, when Morrison graduated from medical school. The new MD packed up his wife and kids and moved to Washington as an intern in the U.S. Public Health Service. “I thought we were doing great, because I was making $327 a month there,” he says.
At the end of the internship, Morrison ended up going north, where the health service operated a hospital in Alaska. “It was an Alaskan ‘native’ hospital, and it was on an island across the channel from Sitka,” says Morrison.
On Jan. 3, 1959, one of the local women was in labor in the hospital. “Old Ben Braer, the associate director, said, ‘Win, don’t you have a woman in labor?’” recalls Morrison. “Maybe you could deliver the first baby in the state of Alaska.”
At 9:30 a.m., that’s exactly what happened. “She delivered this little baby 30 minutes after Eisenhower had declared it a state,” says Morrison.
Today, a framed certificate proudly memorializes the moment on the doctor’s office wall.
That time in Alaska was history-making for Morrison in other ways as well. While he was there, he became interested in otolaryngology, which primarily focuses on conditions of the ear, nose, throat (ENT).
“These natives — a lot of them had chronic ear disease,” says Morrison. The young doctor ended up providing post-surgical care for many of them who were treated by a visiting ENT doctor who would periodically come up from Seattle.
“I thought, ‘Why doesn’t the Public Health System have their own ENT doctor?,’” recalls Morrison. “So I applied for their program.”
The decision ultimately took him to Staten Island, N.Y., where he was trained in the specialty. It also set off several moves across the country — including back to Missouri for his otolaryngology training at Barnes Hospital — as well as into the hearts and minds of students during his tenure as a university professor.
He spent time as the chairman of the Otolaryngology Department at the University of Tennessee, and later moved south to the University of Mississippi and re-established the institution’s otolaryngology residency program.
After retiring from full-time work, Morrison even took several temporary doctoring assignments in North Dakota before he and Byrdella retired to Branson in 2002.
“And all with no high school education,” says Morrison with a laugh.