Dr. Harry Frye, a fixture in Magnolia who provided medical care to generations of Southwest Mississippi residents and served on the South Pike school board for nearly half a century, died Sunday. He was 97.
Frye was born in Kansas City, Mo., in 1923 and graduated from Central High School in Jackson in 1941. That’s where he met his wife, the former Helen McGehee. They married in 1944, a year after he was drafted into the U.S. Army.
In September of 1944, he landed on Omaha Beach with U.S. Army’s 328th Infantry Division and fought in battles in northern France, the Ardennes, the Battle of the Bulge, the Rhineland and Central Europe.
Frye deployed overseas as a private first class and by the end of the war he had risen to platoon sergeant. He saw plenty of close calls in Europe. His Jeep driver was captured by the Germans and later freed and he was pinned down by mortar in northern France. At the end of the war, his unit had reached Czechoslovakia and moved to the Austrian Alps at former Nazi leader Joseph Goebbels’ summer home, where they guarded captured SS troops.
Frye returned to the U.S. in December 1945 and re-enrolled in Millsaps College to finish a degree in mathematics. He had been accepted to Louisiana State University’s School of Engineering and was scheduled to begin classes in the fall. But he contracted polio in 1946 and spent the next six months in a hospital, an experience that led him to pursue medicine as a career.
Frye graduated from Tulane Medical Center in 1951 and moved to Magnolia in 1952 to work with Dr. A.V. Beacham at the hospital in Magnolia.
Frye and the late Dr. Warren Hiatt bought Beacham Memorial Hospital and Frye built the Magnolia Clinic in 1965.
“I think Dr. Frye should be remembered as the bedrock of the healthcare community in Magnolia,” said Dr. Luke Lampton, who began working at the clinic with Frye in 1995.
Lampton praised Frye’s work with making Beacham Memorial Hospital a modern medical facility, along with his efforts to keep it open as an asset to the South Pike community.
Frye mentored Lampton as a doctor and played a significant role in the lives of Lampton’s family.
“He had a great love of his patients and understanding of them as human beings,” Lampton said. “A big part of his philosophy of medicine was emphasizing your personal relationship with your patient, and in many ways he was a friend. He was caring for his friends here in Magnolia.”
His patients would get excited to hear the distinct sound of his approach, a result of his bout with polio.
“I could hear him making his rounds. He still had a little weakness in his legs. You could hear a distinctive sound to his gait,” Lampton said.
“One patient told me he would come to their house when their daughter had an asthma attack. He would sit on the bed help the little girl breathe. He took the time to be there and help her not panic and help reassure her,” Lampton said. “A lot of that is just time, and you often don’t see physicians spend that time with their patients anymore. He’s someone who was definitely in medicine for all the right reasons.”
Frye joined the South Pike School board in 1957 and served until 2003.
Former South Pike School District Superintendent Dr. Lauren Lanier said Dr. Frye was instrumental in the formation and direction of the district.
“He was a person who knew what he was doing, what the school district needed and helped to get it,” Lanier said. “I have often thought that Dr. Frye was one of the most instrumental members of our community.
“It is a sad day with him passing, and he will be missed. He was a grand old man, and he was the person that was always there for you.”
Lanier said Frye was one of his confidants, adding that any time he needed advice, he would walk the three blocks from his office to Dr. Frye’s and wait to get it.
“His office was only two or three blocks down, and if I needed some help along the way, all I needed to do was pop into his clinic, and talk to his receptionist,” Lanier said, noting that Frye would come out and speak with him between patients. “He was here for any advice that I needed for the function and direction of the school district.”
Both Beacham’s campus and South Pike’s administration building are named after Frye.
Frye was a member of Magnolia United Methodist Church, where he was a Sunday school teacher, served as finance chairman and was a member of the administrative board. He also served on the board of directors for a number of local banks.
Frye swam as a part of his therapy to strengthen his legs when he had polio and it became a routine he loved. He played saxophone as a youth and loved playing golf at Fernwood Country Club.
Brenda Cox remembers well Frye’s care for the community from the 13 years she was a nurse at Beacham.
“He was just a blessing to all of us. You could see him get very emotional when he would lose a patient,” she said.
She and her husband, former Magnolia alderman Lonnie Cox, live about two blocks from where Frye lived before retiring to Camellia Estates with his wife. Cox would often see Frye making house calls in the neighborhood.
“He would go check on them with his bag in hand. I thought that was amazing,” she said. “They were very devoted to him as their physician. Even as he aged they didn’t want to lose him.”
She remembered Frye would often visit her husband when he was on the town board to speak on behalf of the elderly in town.
Magnolia Alderman Joe Cornacchione remembers Frye serving as primary doctor for both his parents and all the work he did throughout the community.
“Everybody’ll tell you the same thing. He worked until he was not able to,” Cornacchione said.