Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in a series about Dr. Dorothy Leith and her home and office at 240 Main Street in Imlay City.
Her patients, now grown up and retired, can recall bits and oddities of their trips to the Dr. Leith’s office at 240 Main St. Only a few can recall the illness or injury that landed them in the large drawing room, with its highly varnished wooden floor. Their aliments are long forgotten but the imagery of the pocket doors sliding open and Miss Pulleyblank calling their names are still stored in their childhood memories.
Some recall the intermingled smells of rubbing alcohol, ether and stale cigarette smoke. Or hearing the couple’s two long hair dachshunds scampering down the stairs behind the doors that separated the living quarters from the waiting room. They have visions of glass jars of cotton balls, cotton swabs, ace bandages and a medical cabinet labeled with mysterious small tools and powders. Memories vary but all recall the three storied Queen Anne structure which outshined any house they ever seen before in their young lives.
Grant Fritch, a 1974 Imlay graduate formerly of Chicago and now living in Okemos, remembers his father building alternate smaller porch steps for the dachshunds so they could go out to the yard without trouble. The Fritches also were good friends of the couple and took care of their gardens and lawn. He recalls they were so nice to them and fussed over the dogs as if they were their children.
Joe Dobos, Imlay graduate and retired Lapeer Schools band director, was an admirer and patient of Dr Leith.
“To be a woman doctor anywhere in the 1950s took a lot of courage. Especially in a farm town like Imlay City. I remember seeing her M.D. certificate on the wall in her office from Grace Hospital. Her hair was always in a bun and messy. I think it was because she was always working hard and busy. I remember she always wore glasses and had a little bit of a squint. She had kind eyes. I still can picture her sitting with her legs crossed, talking to my mother.”
Her assistant and life partner, Dorothy Pulleyblank, also left an impression on Joe.
“Miss Pulleyblank used to walk the dogs on Main Street, wearing her nurse’s uniform, cap, and a blue cape. It was quite an appearance. She looked like a character out of a children’s book.”
The dogs’ names were Carl and Carol. “The only doctor’s office I knew as a kid was Dr. Leith’s office. Those tall rooms and the double sliding doors, the dogs wandering around. When I went to Dr. Smith, I said, “This is not a real doctor’s office.”
Joe attended the same church as Dr. Leith did. He said at the time the Catholic Church was only a few buildings south from Dr. Leith’s home/office on Main Street. He noted that on days she attended, the collection plate quadrupled in donations. She was also very good to the nuns that lived in the convent housing next door to her. If someone could not afford medical care, she did not charge them.
Joe remembers, “On many occasions, Father McCormick and later Father Shuler would bring people who were ill and could not afford to see a doctor to Dr. Leith. She treated them without charge. In the 1960s when groups of workers from Mexico came to Imlay to work in the fields, she attended to their medical needs after a long day at the office.”
Mary Kate Buike, an Imlay graduate now living in Washington State, has many fond memories and much respect for both Dr. Leith and her nurse Miss Pulleyblank.
“I remember Miss P very well. She was very friendly and kind.” Mary laughs and adds, “It might have been she who would let the dogs out! There was a door between her section and the waiting room. She had a tall counter and a desk behind. We waited in the waiting room and then she would call when it was time to see Dr. L. She had the records waiting at the counter for the doctor. We entered the medical office through the front porch and the door facing Main Street. Lots of steps! I remember the photo of her medical school class that hung in the larger waiting room. She was the only woman in it. I also remember her giving me empty syringe bottles for my doctor play kit.”
Perhaps it was her way to encourage young girls in the 1950s to think about pursuing a medical career in the future?
Others such as John Ramirez recall dreading the visit to the house as it meant a shot was coming.
John said, “They would have to chase me around the place before holding me down and sticking me with the needle!”
Tom Louwsma said even though Dr. Leith brought him into the world, he was still “scared to death to go into that house. When you walked in the front foyer there was a metal chain link type of floor mat. I remember that because it meant I was gonna get a shot!”
The late Betty Harris Elezam recalled the dogs following Dr. Leith into the waiting room before being hustled out by Miss Pulleyblank and wisteria that grew over the porch giving it a warm welcome.
Carol Deppong recalled how the doctor helped the family when her father had his heart attack. Janet Schultz Black remembers being treated for measles. Bob Maison recalls her as a kindly neighbor who was a “great doctor with a warm bedside manner.”
Judy Pelong Meadows adds, “One night after my dad, Pete Pelong, had hernia surgery, he was in a lot of pain. My mother called Dr. Leith, and she came right out and gave an injection (probably morphine) and I admired her for that.”
Mike Rankin recalled the photos of the many hunting and fishing trips in her office in the late 1960s and getting his physical to play Little League Baseball. Many others received their physicals for sports or Girl Scouts as well. Debbie Hanna, retired Imlay teacher, saw Dr. Leith as a child and remembers how the wood floors creaked and the long haired dachshunds wandered into the office when a door was inadvertently left ajar.
Jeff Woodcox recalls the little dog ramps that came down from the back porch to the yard. He and other neighbor children would play on the ramps and he recalls her “doctor sign” hanging in front of the house but never saw the doctor. Those memories probably date back to the early 1970s when ill health forced the doctor to seek treatment in Detroit and to retire from practice.
Contact Lynn at email@example.com.