In the early 1970s, Cary had 10,000 residents, but no pediatricians. Parents had to drive their children to Raleigh for routine visits during years when gas grew scarce and flu ran rampant.
When Dr. Bill Jones opened Cary Pediatrics in 1974, it was like he made a house call to the entire town. In the 31 years he served the Cary community, Jones saw it grow to some 140,000 residents, and during the early stages of his practice, he treated most of Cary’s newborns.
Cary Pediatrics since has expanded to include Fuquay Pediatrics as well as Apex Pediatrics. Before his retirement in 2005, Jones’ office was seeing as many as 80 patients a day.
“We are easily the biggest in Cary, one of the biggest in Wake County – and this all started with a one-man practice,” said Jones’ longtime partner, Dr. Mark Simpson.
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Jones died last month at the age of 79. About eight years ago, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, which forced him into an “early” retirement.
“He would have kept working until the day he died if he could,” Simpson said. He remembers a moment not long ago when Jones looked at Simpson with his piercing blue eyes and said, “Parkinson’s disease is a monster.”
Jones was born and raised in Henderson and attended both Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill before leaving the area for nearly 20 years. At the time, Jones’s practice in Hampton, Va., was disbanding and he learned that Cary had no pediatrician. He decided to come back to the Triangle and set up a practice of his own.
That meant moving his five teenage children to the MacGregor Downs neighborhood of Cary, and starting down a path that would keep him virtually on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the first six years he was in practice.
“We were looking for somewhere to move,” said his wife of 57 years, Frances. “The timing was perfect.”
During those first few years of practice, Jones’ only support staff was a nurse who doubled as a receptionist.
Every time a baby was born via Cesarean section at the Rex Hospital, he was called in immediately. If it was a vaginal delivery, he showed up the next morning. He made house calls and often wasn’t home until 10 p.m.
“As long as I’ve known him, he wanted to be a doctor,” Frances said. And a children’s doctor at that, she said, because he appreciated their openness.
She met him in elementary school.
“We started holding hands in the fifth grade,” she said. She can remember him throwing pebbles at her bedroom window on his way home from his paper route. “He was kind of like my alarm clock,” she smiled.
They began to seriously date in high school, supporting each other as strong athletes in their hometown of Henderson. He was a self-motivated student, she said. They would both graduate from Duke University – he from a pre-med program, she from the school of nursing.
They were wed in 1954 and Jones began medical school at UNC-Chapel Hill.
He spent a number of years doing research at places like the National Institute of Health before joining a practice in Virginia.
His colleague Dr. Simpson said Jones was particularly good with teens. He served as the team physician for Cary High School for decades, where the only fees he charged went to pay his nursing staff.
Jones loved having a large family, his wife said.
“He would have had more (children) if I had cooperated,” she joked. He found time to teach them how to ride bikes and go horseback riding. He ultimately funded 31 years of higher education – he saw to it that none of his children ever took out a loan.
Verbal affection did not come easily, and he preferred the written word when he had a particularly important message to convey.
His daughter, Kathy Melvin of Lillington, has held onto a letter he mailed her while she was an undergrad at East Carolina University. It was 1979, and she said she was partying more than she was studying, and he was quite concerned.
“He said that what he wanted for us, the most, was to be happy, healthy, safe, productive and Godly,” she recalled. “He did everything he could to make that possible for us.”
She never did earn that bachelor’s degree. But since his death, she has enrolled in a community college program to become a nurse’s aid.
“I really want to make him proud still,” Melvin said.
Jones liked to tailgate for N.C. State University football games, and got into wood-working, fashioning a workshop in his basement where he made toys, whirligigs for the front yard and crafted a cradle for his first grandchild.
His children talk of a man who had a strong vision for his family – one where ideally they would become doctors or nurses. Of the five, three went into the medical field, though he did not resent those who did not.
“Part of me becoming a doctor was that I just had so much admiration for what he did,” said his son Tommy Jones, an internist in Greensboro and the only doctor of medicine.
They also speak of a man who was full of patience and forgiveness.
“Whenever we failed and came to him with a mistake or an error, he was just very understanding. He would say, ‘We do that. We have our failures and we recover from them,’” Tommy Jones said.
He was a man of faith, attending Greenwood Forest Baptist Church for 37 years. “We were very fortunate to be with him as he passed,” said his daughter Dino Page of Greensboro. “Even a week before then he was able to share what was most important to him was his faith in the Lord. He charged my mom and three of us children with these words: ‘Help us to love Thee, help us to do Thy will and help us to keep the faith.’ It meant so much to us to hear him say those last words.”