Community Mourns Loss of Dr. Hillard Duckworth

Thursday, January 4, 2018
Dr. Hillard R. Duckworth

The community continues to mourn longtime local physician Hillard R. Duckworth, who died Friday, December 29, at the age of 91. Duckworth, a native of the Pollard area, had served the region for nearly 60 years and continued to make rounds and see patients until only recently.

Dr. Duckworth began practicing medicine in Piggott in 1955, returning to his native region following college and training in St. Louis with a new wife in tow. In the decades since he has been an integral part of the community, bringing over a thousand new souls into the world -- and taking part in the care of many of them throughout much of their lives.

In the spring of 2013, Duckworth sat down and looked back on his life, career and the changes he has witnessed.

“I was born outside of Pollard and went to elementary school out there, then to high school in Piggott,” he reminisced. “I graduated from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and the U of A Medical School in Little Rock, and then had my hospital training in St. Louis City Hospital in St. Louis before coming here.”

Despite his fondness for Clay County, Dr. Duckworth also has lasting memories of his time in St. Louis, which afforded him the chance to meet his future wife.

“I had some of my most enjoyable years while in St. Louis, and there were several reasons,” he noted. “It was very good training and I had a lot of work since the hospital had 1,500 patients. There were medical interns and people taking their training from all over the United States, and I met a lot of good friends there -- and Gwen and I met and married there in St. Louis.”

The future Gwen Duckworth was a native of the region and was also employed at the hospital.

“She was from Quincy, Ill., north of St. Louis on the river, and was working as a surgical nurse at City Hospital when we met,” he added.

The couple returned to Piggott in 1955 at a time when healthcare in the community was in transition, and the services of a young doctor much needed.

“When we came back the old hospital was closed. It had been open, but had closed due to lack of staff and some other things,” he explained. “I did practice here several months, but then we re-opened the hospital and it became functional again. My wife, she played a big role in getting the hospital re-opened, rounding up the personnel and so forth -- she had a lot to do with it.”

In the early days of his practice, Dr. Duckworth and Nurse Gwen often had to take their services to the patients. The young doctor also found plenty of work locally, beginning with his first day in practice.

“The first day I was taking calls was a Sunday, and they had a wreck out here at Carryville and there were 20-some odd people involved in it,” he reminisced. “Fortunately none of them was seriously injured.”

Unlike today’s specialized medicine, Duckworth’s practice has included experience treating a variety of illnesses and injuries. But he always looks back to one part which brought him, and others, the most joy. “I’ve never tried to keep up with it, but I’d say I’ve delivered well over 1,000 babies,” he noted. “We haven’t been delivering them here at the hospital for a number of years, but I used to get a lot of them. I learned God made women to have babies, and the best approach is to let nature take its course, and things usually go just fine as long as you don’t get impatient and try to meddle and hurry things along or such.”

Having a long career in medicine in one community also affords a doctor the chance to see what becomes of all those babies.

Duckworth also has had the chance to see great strides in medicine in his decades of service. The doctor also pointed to the improvements in treatment of cancer made during his career, and to the great strides in education and training.

Funeral services for Dr. Duckworth were conducted Saturday, Dec. 30, at the First Baptist Church of Piggott. The complete obituary may be found in that section of this website.

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