'Doc' Phillips remembers years of medical practice, YRMC's growth
William A. "Doc" Phillips, a sprightly 95-year-old, came to Yuma in 1941 as a young doctor.
Originally from Pennsylvania, Phillips had completed his residency in surgery at St. Mary's hospital in Tucson. He had graduated from the University of Rochester Medical School and sought a drier climate.
And so began a long medical career that included a stint as the first chief of staff at Yuma Regional Medical Center, which this year is celebrating its first half-century of service to the community.
"I arrived in Yuma one week before Pearl Harbor was attacked. A telegram instructing 'Lieutenant' Phillips to report to duty arrived, and the next day another telegram came to 'disregard previous order', so that was that," Phillips said.
Dr. Roy R. Knotts was leaving and the job of Yuma County Health Department director was offered, and Phillips accepted.
"Soon it was wartime and General George Patton had troops out in the desert near Yuma. There was one time when 100 soldiers were diagnosed with heat stroke, five had died. It was also my duty to be coroner as well as health director," Phillips said.
He opened his private practice, Yuma Medical Center, at 601 5th Ave., in 1944. "It was the first building in Yuma designed specifically for a medical practice. There was an X-ray machine, an operating room and space for four doctors," Phillips said.
He worked at the former Yuma County General Hospital at 2751 Avenue B. In 1958, the old hospital closed its doors as a hospital, but was then a nursing home, finally closing in 1961.
Phillips remembers times at the old hospital when, he told a Sun reporter, "You'd stop in the middle of performing an operation to swat a fly." Location was across the street from hog pens, and the high water table routinely flooded the hospital's septic tanks.
The Parkview Hospital (later Parkview Baptist Hospital) and now Yuma Regional Medical Center, opened Aug. 15, 1958.
Phillips was the first chief of staff at the new hospital and the late A.I. Podolsky was the chief executive officer.
His surgical career spanned decades at YRMC, and he was one of the first in Yuma to use penicillin. He also did surgery on a patient with inflammatory cancer of the breast. "It was radical surgery, and she went through a month of radiation. She's still alive today," the doctor said.
Another memorable surgery was one assisted by Dr. Ralph Irwin. "We successfully removed a 75-pound spleen from a woman who came here from Boston," Phillips said.
There were numerous other surgeries, treatments, plus deliveries of hundreds of babies over the years.
His first wife, Helen McKellar Phillips, was Canadian-born, a registered nurse and office manager for Yuma Medical Center, and the first female to serve on the Yuma City Council. From the marriage, the couple has two sons, Charles, in California, William "Ritchie" in Alaska, and a daughter, Sandralee, who died. There are two grandchildren.
Phillips married again after Helen's passing in 1984 and the death of a longtime friend Ed Brazeel. He said, "I sat around looking at four walls, then called Marinita, widow of Ed, and suggested we get together. Since then we've traveled to Egypt, China and Russia, and spend summer months at Coos Bay, Oregon."
Phillips is an avid fisherman and hunts. When he was 93, he bagged a bighorn sheep. "I hiked for five days to find the sheep trail, and it paid off."
Phillips now hunts with a movie camera.
Phillips retired in 1988 after 51 years in practice, but still keeps in touch with the medical profession. His viewpoints on the medical profession are positive in seeing more women coming in as doctors; seeing how pacemakers have helped those with heart problems, and upholding his personal vendetta against breast cancer.
"I believe that a doctor should always examine a patient properly and look to see what is wrong. I think they should do this like how they - or me - would want to be treated."
Pam M. Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6856.