Atmore native leaves behind legacy as hometown doctor

Published 5:31 pm Monday, November 14, 2005

By By Janet Little Cooper
The end of an era fell upon Atmore this past week with the passing of Dr. Benjamin C. Maxwell.
Dr. Ben, as he was affectionately called for the last 42 years of his life, was a pioneer in the medical profession of his hometown. He began practicing medicine in 1953. He retired in 1996 after caring for the members of his community for more than 40 years. Dr. Ben was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 1998 and passed away on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005.
The impact of his death has been widespread. His name has been a part of Atmore for decades.
In addition to his medical practice, Dr. Maxwell served as Chief of Staff of Atmore Community Hospital, was named Citizen of the Year in 1994 by the Atmore Area Chamber of Commerce and was an active member and Sunday school teacher at First United Methodist Church.
"I met Dr. Ben in July of 1949," friend John Garrard said. "Our wives graduated from high school together and they lived two blocks from us. We have been going to church together for years. He taught my children and grandchildren in Sunday school. He was a great Christian man. He would take those kids places. He was a good role model for them and they just loved him. He and I would travel once a month to Peterman to visit with our former pastor, Marcus Chandler. It is going to be hard to walk in church today and not see him there, but it is satisfying to know where he is now."
Dr. Ben devoted much of his life to his church and his church family by serving on numerous committees and activities within the church.
His name was better known within the medical field, due to the many hours he devoted to patients at Physicians Associates in town.
"He was happiest when he was at work," Sheila Pugh, Dr. Ben's nurse of 22 years said. "When he first started he would not take appointments. I can remember him working to as late as 9 p.m. He was a great physician, teacher, friend and encourager. He made me part of his family. Dr. Ben was like a second dad to me. He treated everyone the same no matter who you were and he used the 'wow' factor quite a bit. He would flatter you, but would also tell you when he didn't like something. He was color blind, but he would tell you if he didn't like the color of something you had on. After he retired, he would ride his bike to the office and knock on the back door to get in. Some days he would just come walk around and visit. I will always cherish Dr. Ben's memory. There will always be a heaviness in my heart for him."
Dr. Ben excelled in many areas other than his medical profession. In his younger years, he served as captain of his high school football team in Atmore and played the game of golf quite well.
"Ben and I played football together in high school," friend, Dickie Dickinson said. "Ben was a superior athlete. He excelled in everything he did. We went to school together and roomed together during college. Ben was a much better golfer than me, but we spent a lot of time golfing together. He actually played up until about five or six weeks ago. He would tell me all the time how much he loved golf. I admired him because he could do all the things I couldn't do or if I could do them, Ben just did them better. Ben was a fine human being – they just don't come any better."
The Early Years
Dr. Benjamin Collins Maxwell was born on March 6, 1925 to W. R. "Dolphie" and Mary Maxwell in Atmore. He was the fourth child of five boys. Ben spent the first 18 years of his life at the family home at the northwest corner of Pensacola Avenue and Pine Streets across the street from the present home of Bess and Richard Maxwell, his nephew.
Ben's neighborhood playmates included, his younger brother, Robert, Tom Byrne, Pete Weaver, Martha Sowell, Roy Lloyd and Robin Swift, Jr. They engaged in the usual activities, hide-and-seek, kick the can, tree climbing, catching lightening bugs, looking for "doodle" bugs, and touch football.
A part of the Maxwell home site housed a large barn to accommodate from time to time a cow and one or two horses, which added to the children's enjoyment. This gave Ben the regular chore of milking the cow. Ben also, shared with his brothers, the joys of splitting kindling' wood, bringing in wood, and buckets of coal. He also had to rake leaves and mow the grass.
Early Education
Dr. Ben began his formal education when he entered "grammar" school in September of 1931 at the Atmore Public School now called Rachel Patterson Elementary School. The school was located at the present site of Heritage Park on South Main Street in Atmore.
The six years of Dr. Ben's elementary education were without event. He made excellent marks and gave his teachers no disciplinary problems.
Dr. Ben's junior and senior high school years were spent in the halls of what is now known as the Lions Club Community Center. He started playing football in the eighth grade. His first coach was Dr. Andy Edington, who was from Mobile and later became the president of a small college in Texas. With the advent of WWII, Dr. Edington left and was followed by Hugo Yancey. Ben's senior year coach was A. M. "Dick" Jones, who had coached in Atmore in the late 30's before becoming a rural mail carrier.
Ben started in the backfield, where he excelled in running, passing and kicking. In college he played inter-mural football where he became known as "Crazy Legs" because of his prowess as a receiver and runner.
He also enjoyed the game of golf, to which his father first introduced him in the late 1930's. In the summer of 1946 he won an inter-collegiate match for the University of Alabama.
Ben was also a good marksman, which he proved time and time again on early morning dove shoots with his friend and companion Dickie Dickinson.
As a senior in high school, Dr. Ben entered the Birmingham News sponsored oratorical contest, speaking from prepared text, he won the county and regional eliminations and placed among the top four in the statewide contest.
Dr. Ben graduated from high school in 1943 in the middle of the war years.
Military Service
Dr. Ben was faced with a decision about military service after high school. He opted to become a fighter pilot in the United States Navy and entered the Navy's V-12 program where the military selected the brightest high school graduates for more schooling, followed by flight school and the eventual commissioning as a Naval Officer. The end of WWII gave Ben the opportunity to leave the Naval service, but he elected to remain in service to earn his coveted wings.
Dr. Ben began his college years in 1946 as a student in the School of Pharmacy at Alabama Polytechnic Institute, now Auburn University. During his several quarters of study there he began to wonder if he might more directly serve humanity as a physician.
After making that decision, Ben transferred to the University of Alabama where he had been informed that the transfer would enhance his chances for eventual admission to their University of Medicine.
In 1948 Ben entered medical school and his 1952 graduation was immediately followed by a one-year stint as an intern at Birmingham's Hillman Hospital.
Medical Practice
In the summer of 1953, Dr. Ben began his medical practice in Atmore. His office was in the building at 107 East Ridgeley Street now occupied by Helton's Service Center. Other tenants in that building were physician James B.Thomas, Jr. and dentist Henry Rodgers, Jr. Dr. Ben later built his own office at the present site of Dr. Gene West's office on 7th Avenue.
With the inception of the American Academy of Family Practice, in which he was an early participant, Dr. Ben furthered his medical training and became certified in his favorite field of family practice.
After many years as a solo medical practitioner, Ben began to take on physician partners. To facilitate that move as well as retirement and estate planning, in the 1960's Dr. Ben formed a professional association under the laws of Alabama and the Internal Revenue Code. That entity, Physician Associates of Atmore, P.A. still exists, although Dr. Ben disposed of his ownership interest several years ago.
Family Life
Despite his busy life as a medical student, in the late 1940's Dr. Ben made time to court Jean Stallworth of Atmore, whom he married in August of 1950. The couple lived in a small apartment in Birmingham, within walking distance to the medical school and the hospital Ben attended. Jean worked as a teacher several miles away.
The couple had three children: Martha Ann was born in July of 1952, Lynn in July of 1954 and Ben "Bo", Jr. in October of 1956. Their first child, Martha Ann died suddenly in June of this year from an illness attributed to an insect bite. Martha Ann left her husband, Van Allen, and two adult children, Ashley and Hunter. Lynn is married to Ronnie Shirley, and they have two children, Allison, a student at the University of Alabama and Lindsey a high school student in Peachtree, Ga.
Through the influence of his parents and of the Baptist church that he attended throughout his childhood, Dr. Ben, professed his belief in Jesus Christ when he was 12 years old. He was scheduled for baptism by Dr. C.S. Crawford, but was postponed due to a broken collarbone he received in a bicycle accident. Dr. John E. Barnes, Jr. succeeded Dr. Crawford and baptized young Ben.
The Christian principles instilled in Dr. Ben as a child, remained with him throughout the remainder of his life and characterized his later practice as a medical doctor.

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