ENID, Okla. — While the country continues to recover from the novel coronavirus pandemic, memories of fighting the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918-19 are only separated from the present by one generation.
Dr. Earl “Doc” Mabry, 100, of Enid, who served as a dentist locally for 50 years, recently shared the story of his father, Dr. Earl Winters Mabry, who served in World War I and then returned home to fight the Spanish influenza pandemic.
From war to another battle
The elder Mabry was born in April 1882, the youngest of 10 children, in Shiloh, Tennessee. He later attended medical school at the University of Nashville, now Vanderbilt University.
Mabry said his father established a medical practice in Gainesboro, Tennessee, and shared an office with Cordell Hull, who would go on to serve as secretary of state under President Franklin Roosevelt.
When the U.S joined World War I in 1917, Mabry said his father shipped out to serve in the Army Medical Corps.
After about a year of service, Mabry said his father was released from the Army at Fort Riley, Kansas, then boarded a train bound for Oklahoma to meet his brother, Otho Mabry.
But while the war was behind him, the elder Mabry was not done with public service.
When his train reached Mangum, Oklahoma, the Greer County sheriff and a local doctor met the train and recruited him to help battle the Spanish flu, which had started in clusters near Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Clinton and spread from there.
‘It just kept coming’
The Spanish flu was identified first among military personnel in spring of 1918 and lasted well into 1919. An estimated 500 million people, or one-third of the world’s population, were infected with the virus, and at least 50 million people died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Oklahoma, the pandemic claimed more than 7,000 lives.
Mabry said his father was furnished a “pill bag” and a Model T Ford and was sent to a farm 2 miles from the train station at Mangum.
“There, Dad found a family of 12, with seven of them already dead from the Spanish flu,” Mabry said. “He said it just kept coming after that. It continued on for months and months.”
There was no vaccine or antibiotics that could treat the flu, and Mabry said the pills the county gave his father to treat patients “didn’t amount to much.”
After several months of seeing flu patients, Mabry said his father caught the virus himself. He was severely ill, lingering near death, for several weeks, Mabry said.
“Mother said she kept him alive with nutritious eggnog,” Mabry said. “He survived.”
Life after the pandemic
The younger Earl Mabry was born in 1920, after the influenza pandemic, and his father soon moved the family to Altus, Oklahoma, where he established a permanent practice and finished his half-century of medical service.
Mabry remembers his father as a “strictly religious” man, who was “very adamant” about and guided by his faith.
That faith and his commitment to medicine led Mabry’s father to serve many patients in the segregated black neighborhoods of Altus at the height of Jim Crow laws.
“Some of the doctors wouldn’t take care of them, so Dad would go out there, and he had a lot of friends out there,” Mabry said. “He took care of some people no one else would take care of.”
Mabry said his father delivered many babies during his time, and a lot of the babies were named after him, out of the families’ respect for his father.
“There were a lot of babies in Altus named Earl,” Mabry said with a laugh.
Mabry moved from Altus to join the Navy, then established his own dental practice in Enid after World War II.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Mabry said he saw patients for 50 years, then “took that as a good mark at which to retire.”
Carrying on a legacy
But the Mabry tradition of healing others carries on. Doc Mabry has nine children of his own and a combination of 50 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Of his own children, five have had successful careers in the medical field. Jim Mabry took over his father’s dental practice in Enid. Wynn Mabry, of Charlotte, North Carolina, the first of Mabry’s nine children, is a urologist and retired major general from the Air Force medical corps. Jeff Mabry, of San Antonio, Texas, is a retired Air Force dentist. Mabry’s daughter, Madelyn Keck, is a nurse practitioner in Enid, and Tad Mabry, of Iowa City, Iowa, is a pediatric dentist.
Looking back on his father’s legacy and his own children carrying on that legacy, Mabry had a simple but proud reaction: “It’s just tremendous.”