My father, Melvin Rackleff, MD, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Army (ret.)

My father embodied what health care and public service should be. 

Bob's dad, Dr. Melvin Rackleff.

Bob's dad, Dr. Melvin Rackleff.

That was his life, in fact, and I wanted to live up to his example. I wear his medical school class ring every day to remind me.

He was an old-fashioned general practitioner and the only doctor in 1930s Depression-era Clayton, Ill. He treated everyone in need, whether they could pay or not. To him, this was not charity care.  It was simply his duty.  

My mother set aside her career as a hosptial dietition to be a homemaker, the mother of her two sons, and the sponsor of the local 4-H Club. Our home in Clayton had no indoor plumbing, a wood stove for cooking, and only partial electricity; we had only one car. I took my children there in the 1990s, but the house is no longer there.

My dad had grown up in a pioneer Oregon family. His grandfather, William Rackleff, sailed in 1850 from Portland, ME to the Oregon coast in the family fishing schooner. There was no Panama Canal then, so his voyage took him around all of South America. Arriving in that sparsely-settled territory, he and other families built new businesses and farmed.

When America entered World War I in 1917, dad enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Soon he was serving as a Pharmacist’s Mate (now called Corpsman) on a troop ship homeported in Hoboken, NJ, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. When the war ended the next year, he helped bring the troops home from Europe, then decided to become a doctor. He enrolled in Chicago Medical School, which had night classes that let him work in various jobs to help pay his school expenses.  He graduated in 1927.

While an intern, he married my mother, Hazel McNish Rackleff, a dietition at a nearby Chicago hospital. Her father worked in a Hormel factory in Austin, MN. After their wedding, my mom and dad kept their marriage secret for the first year. It was customary in the 1920s for employers to fire women after they got married; the reasoning was that their husbands could support them, and that single women need her job more. My parents needed the income from her job.

After serving Clayton for 15 years, Pop was drafted in 1942 as a U.S. Army doctor and served in field hospitals in England during World War II, treating some of the massive casualties from the invasion of Europe. He was overseas when I was born in Quincy, IL, which had the nearest hospital to Clayton. As soon as I was able to travel, my mother, older brother and I moved to Long Beach, MS, where we lived while mother worked as a dietition in the Biloxi VA Hospital.

Dad remained in the Army after the war until retiring in 1958, then worked as a Veterans Administration doctor in Winston-Salem, NC for the next 10 years. He then retired to Dunedin, Florida, where he regularly attended lectures on medical advances at the local hospital; he was always learning. When he died in 1994, he was not rich. He never expected that being a doctor entitled him to be rich.