Haskell’s beloved “Dr. Joe,” Joseph Eltidge Thigpen, passed away April 16, 2013, in College Station. Services will be held at 10 a.m., Friday, April 19, at the First United Methodist Church in Haskell with Dusty Garison of Abilene officiating. Burial will be in Willow Cemetery under the direction of Smith Family Funeral Homes of Haskell.
A visitation will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday, April 18, at the First United Methodist Church.
Born Sept. 30, 1920, in Bay Springs, Miss., he was the son of Dr. Joseph and Victoria (Medlin) Thigpen. At 16, he graduated from Bay Springs High School, and at 20 he earned a degree in biology from Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss.
He worked in banking until enlisting in the Air Force in February 1942. Following flight school, he spent 22 months in Panama before being stationed in Managua, Nicaragua. While on R&R leave in Tyler, he met Beunis Ratliff of Haskell who was visiting her aunt and uncle. Four months later, they married on Oct. 19, 1944, in Tyler.
Capt. Thigpen and his bride moved to Muskogee, Okla., where he trained in the new P-38 airplane. When he completed his training, his wife returned to Haskell, and he was shipped to the Pacific with the 41st Photo Reconnaissance Squadron to fly P-38’s. His tours included Hawaii, Johnson Island, Kwajalein (Marshal Islands), Okinawa and Guam. He earned the Asiatic Pacific Air Medal with one Bronze Star and the World War II American Victory Medal. After the war, when others called him a hero, the humble aviator said that the real heroes were the ones who didn’t get to come back home.
Following his discharge from the service in 1945, he graduated from the University of Mississippi and was accepted to Baylor Medical School in Houston, graduating in 1950. Dr. Joe moved his family to Haskell in 1951 to serve as a general practice doctor to four generations, where on a slow day, he saw only a 100 patients.
With four children and a thriving medical practice, time was precious and sacrifices were many, but his commitment and care for his patients endeared him to his community. In recognition of his many years of dedicated service, he was named Haskell’s Citizen of the Year in 1994. The Texas House of Representatives honored him on March 5, 1985, as the Doctor for a Day. But recognition was not something he sought. For him, there was no greater honor, no greater mission, no greater profession than serving his patients.
A wise and compassionate general practitioner, his broad and diverse knowledge of medicine was surpassed only by his understanding of his patients’ needs. From delivering babies to delivering medical advice, he treated his patients as if they were his family. Dr. Joe continued to make house calls long after most doctors had discontinued the practice.
Just as he received a legacy from his physician father of nurturing families from the youngest child to the oldest adult, Dr. Joe passed a medical legacy on to his family. Daughter Anita is a registered nurse, daughter Emily is a registered pharmacist and grandson Ross will finish medical school in May. He was especially proud when Texas Tech University named its nursing school the Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing in 2008.
Known as “Big Daddy” to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he was also known for taking his family on spontaneous flying trips whether to Ruidoso or, on a Sunday afternoon, a quick trip over the Palo Duro Canyon. He not only flew fast, but he also drove fast, often passing every car on the road while all four kids yelled, “Don’t do it, Daddy!”
When the family was looking for him, Dr. Joe could be found at his “office,” playing dominoes at the gin, golfing with his friend Dr. Kemp or washing the windshield of his Piper Comanche airplane. In later years, he welcomed his adult children home with a twinkle in his crystal clear, baby-blue eyes, and the question, “What can I do for you today?”
Dr. Joe was preceded in death by his parents; brother Jarman, and twin sisters Jeanette Ulf and Anita Yelverton.
In addition to his wife of 68 years, he is survived by one son, Joseph of Austin; three daughters and sons-in-law, Peggy and Dr. Tom Hairgrove of College Station, First Lady Anita and Gov. Rick Perry of Austin, and Emily and Vincent Solis of San Antonio; seven grandchildren, Joseph Justice Thigpen of Gardendale, Jodi and husband Jason Trammell of Fort Worth, Ross Hairgrove of San Antonio, Griffin Perry and wife Meredith of Dallas, Sydney Perry of Austin, Claire and Isabella Solis of San Antonio; and two great-grandchildren, Jaxon and Jenna Trammell of Fort Worth.
Pallbearers will be Ross Hairgrove, Dr. Tom Hairgrove, Griffin Perry, Gov. Rick Perry, Vincent Solis, Joseph Justice Thigpen, Joseph Thigpen and Jason Trammell.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made in the name of Dr. Joe E. Thigpen to the Anita Thigpen Perry School of Nursing, 3601 4th St. MS 6238, Lubbock, TX 79430.