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Several pictures of doctors who are featured on the Local Legends web site

MEET LOCAL LEGEND: Mary Pauline Fox, M.D.

Picture of Mary Pauline Fox
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Mary Pauline Fox, M.D.

“I was nine years old-as surveys show, the 'normal' age for deciding when to be a doctor-when it hit me. Don't ask me why, but it did. With my grandmother's help, I saved my pennies until I could buy Dorland's Medical Dictionary and Gray's Anatomy from a chiropractor's widow. Then I trudged a mile-and-a-half home with them!”


Hal Rogers



By nomination of Rep. Harold Rogers (R-KY-5), Mary Fox is a Local Legend of Medicine, known far and wide through the hills and hollers of her native eastern Kentucky for her personal dedication, fighting spirit and abiding compassion for patients. Rogers calls her a "dedicated, accomplished physician whose contributions to the medical community are far-reaching and long-lasting."

"I loved being a doctor," Fox said in a recent interview, recounting how medicine had gone from "horseback to the moon" over her career, first as a private-practice physician and then as a crusading public health officer. "The first couple of years in private practice practically wore me out, delivering babies, making hospital visits, seeing patients all over. So I went into public health.

"Eastern Kentucky was very rural, with lots of poverty. But we didn't know we were poor. We were rich in friends, family and gardens. But life spans were shorter because of typhoid, dysentery and other infectious diseases."

For almost 40 years as one of her region's leading public health officials, including serving from 1959 to 1966 as Regional Director of the Kentucky Department of Health overseeing 20 counties, then as Assistant Medical Director of the Frontier Nursing Service between 1966 and 1969, and, lastly, as Health Officer of the Pike County Health Department from 1970 until her retirement in 1993, Fox crusaded to bring comprehensive health and medical services to the people.

"I practically had to beg to get the second TB clinic here, for example," she recalled of her years "fighting the bureaucracy to bring the services to our people in Eastern Kentucky who needed them-the elderly, the poor, the children, the defenseless."

Although she admits battling the system may have been the low point of her career, she "really didn't have time to find it out because I was surrounded by so many good people helping. My whole career was a high point!" To her credit, she built three up-to-date health departments for Knott, Leslie and Pike Counties.

As for medicine today, she says there's a great need for more women doctors but that they should be ready to confront the "coding, paperwork and bureaucracy which stands between you and your patients.

From her long, practical experience, "human touch and compassion" are the keys to successful doctoring. "Healing comes from touching and communicating, from knowing your patient's family, and you don't see this much anymore," she believes. "When I was in medical school, we were told 'If you listen, eventually your patient will tell you what's wrong.' Now, all the doctor has time for is to thump you three times on the chest and change your prescription."

"If you want to try something new and it hasn't been approved, you can't," she laments. "The liability is too great; insurance premiums are going through the roof and we're losing great people."

In retirement, Fox is a popular presenter of Appalachian Mountain Humor, known for such wry observations as, "The Bible says laughter is the best medicine. And at the cost of medicine today, you might better as well laugh!"



Graduates from medical school, one of six women in her 100-member class and the nation's first woman member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps


Completes Internal Medicine internship, Good Samaritan Hospital, Lexington


Serves the people of Leslie, Perry and Knott Counties as Health Officer


Serves as Regional Director, Kentucky Department of Public Health, responsible for 20 counties


Appointed Assistant Medical Director, Frontier Nursing Service, Hyden; and Medical Director, Leslie County Office of Economic Opportunity Health Program


Serves as Health Officer, Pike County Health Department


Receives Al E. Austin Award for Career Achievement, Kentucky Public Health Association


Receives Vision Award, East Kentucky Women in Leadership




University of Louisville School of Medicine, Louisville


Internal Medicine