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Longtime physician passes

Stabler remembered for dedication, love of community

 

A longtime Greenville physician, part of a family instrumental in medical care in the Camellia City, and a decorated veteran dedicated to country, family and community, has passed away. Dr. E. Vernon Stabler Jr., known to many as Dr. Vernon Jr., died at his home on Aug.13 at the age of 86.

Services were held on Saturday, Aug.15 at 10 a.m. in the chapel of Dunklin & Daniels Funeral Home with the Rev. Gorman Huston, the Rev. Andy Perry and the Rev. David Atchison officiating and Dunklin & Daniels Funeral Home directing.

He is recalled by former patients and family friends as a great man and a great doctor, one who was always calm and reassuring, no matter what the circumstances.

“I always had total trust in him,” said Elinor Nelson. “Just like his papa, Dr. Vernon was a good doctor with proper southern bedside manners.”

The son of Dr. E. Vernon Stabler Sr., and grandson of  one of the founders of Stabler Infirmary, Dr. L.V. Stabler, Dr. Vernon Jr. graduated from Greenville High School in 1952. He made his mark as a gifted young man with an undeniable love for learning, as well as a talented athlete lettering in multiple sports, including football, basketball and golf.

Roberta “Bobbie” Gamble, a retired educator who came to Greenville as the bride of a fellow avid golfer, Judge Arthur “Bub” Gamble, recalls meeting young Stabler.

“I called him ‘Buzz,’ and believe me, he was the most handsome boy in his class,” said Gamble.

This “golden boy” and Eagle Scout went on to graduate from the University of Alabama in 1956 and Johns Hopkins in 1960, serving as the president of the Alabama Medical Association from 1989-1990.

The emergency room at the L.V. Stabler Memorial Hospital (now the Regional Medical Center of Central Alabama) was named in his honor, and it was there he served for many years as Chief of Surgery and Chief of Staff.

One of his former patients, Mary Croley, recalls the professionalism and dedication of this caring hometown physician.

“Dr. Vernon Jr. did my cancer surgery. I will never forget my oncologist inspecting my scar and stating what a neat seam he had made,” said Croley.

“He diagnosed my cancer, did my surgery, and referred me to my oncologist around 30 years ago. I will be eternally grateful for his medical skills and care.”

While Dr. Vernon Jr. had many notable accomplishments during his lifetime, he was never one to brag, recalls granddaughter Catherine Boutwell.

“Poppy was always the smartest man in the room, but he had a way of never making it seem he had anything over you,” Boutwell said. “He never bragged, never boasted, and in some cases, never even mentioned some of the accomplishments that put him among the greatest people who have ever lived.”

Greenville Mayor Dexter McLendon is one of those who counts the good doctor among the best men he has ever known.

“Dr. Vernon Jr. and Dr. Paul (Stabler) gave me my first real job when they asked me to come to the hospital. I was given opportunities that really changed my life, and I won’t ever forget that,” said McLendon.

For some of his own family members, learning that Dr. Vernon Jr., a captain in the U.S. Army, had served as a physician in Vietnam and earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service, was truly a revelation.

“External validation was never a motivation for Poppy—the things he did were in service and for the love for his community,” said Boutwell.

This was a man who truly loved his life’s work. Among the memorabilia found by his family was an essay written by the doctor when he was a teenager, in which Dr. Vernon Jr. wrote: “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor ever since I decided not to be a fireman.”

Family members say it was rare to leave the house with their father and grandfather without running into at least one person whose life he had saved, whose babies he had delivered, or whose life had not been positively impacted by his work.

Dr. Vernon Jr. loved life, his friends and family say, enjoying his fishing trips to Apalachicola, traveling to far-flung places like Italy, Ecuador, France, Spain and Africa, cheering on his beloved Crimson Tide and spending time back home with his children and grandchildren.

In the same senior essay in which he had declared his desire to become a physician in his hometown, Dr. Vernon Jr. shared these thoughts: “Will any of these future predictions of mine come true? This question I cannot answer. I only hope I can supply

the work necessary for reaching such heights.”

Catherine Boutwell says her grandfather not only supplied the necessary work, but “far surpassed perhaps even his own expectations.”

The mayor describes Dr. Vernon Jr. as an humble man who did not say a lot, but always made those words count.

“When we first talked about changing the name of the hospital, I was really concerned about the family’s feeling about this, so I went out to see him,” McLendon said.

“He told me he wanted me to do what was best to save our hospital. And that really sums it up. He loved this town, its people and its hospital. What a great, lasting impact he had on our city and our county.”