Dr. Sharpe Johnson’s practice was in a small building behind a shopping center in Oxford, MS. There were two veterinary practices in Oxford then, and one was just around the corner from where I lived. I don’t recall why I chose to drive all the way to the opposite side of town to meet Dr. Johnson and ask him for a job. I can only assume that I was under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It was immediately obvious that Dr. Johnson was a very formal sort of fellow. He was direct, to the point, all business. There was no “messing around” in his mannerisms or his work.
I explained to him that I needed a job “for pay” because “pay” was a requirement for acceptability of a recommendation to Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Johnson was the valedictorian of their Class of 1972.
I alternated working for Dr. Johnson and Dr. Huddleston for about a year, in 1975. Dr. Johnson’s practice was limited to small animals.
My most embarrassing moment with him was an instance in which I was holding a little Chihuahua. It was early in my “career” as a veterinarian’s assistant, and I had no idea what I was doing. Instinctively, I was holding the dog’s mouth while Dr. Johnson gave it an injection. When the dog yipped, and I thought it might bite me, I suddenly let go. I pulled my hand back so fast that I smacked the Chihuahua’s owner in the arm.
One afternoon, after my classes at Ole Miss, I went by the office to put in a few hours. Miss Barbara, Dr. Johnson’s receptionist, quietly motioned me to the surgery area. She said, “He lost a patient this morning after surgery and he’s been working all day to find out what happened.”
I had seen Dr. Johnson in his “serious” mode before, but today was different. He was consumed with knowing why this seemingly-healthy dog succumbed during a routine surgical event. In 1972, preanesthesia laboratory testing for dogs and cats was rarely practiced, and then mostly in teaching hospitals. Dr. Johnson was performing a necropsy, but this dog more likely had a metabolic lesion than a physical one.
Perhaps it was events such as that one which drove Dr. Johnson to his next professional decision.
“Can you believe it?” he asked me during a fishing trip visit to Oxford while I was on summer vacation from my studies at Auburn. “They want me to take organic chemistry again.”
“They” were the members of the Admissions Committee of the University of Mississippi Medical School. After years of practice as a veterinarian he had decided to go back to school and become a physician. I suppose “they” wanted him to prove that he was really serious about this decision.
I heard that Dr. Johnson went on to become an ER physician. Now he practices in Jasper, AL, as a family practitioner.
On that fishing trip he made a statement that I still hear often in my head. I had recently learned to fly-fish. We were in a johnboat with no motor, fishing in a friend’s pond. After he provided propulsion for a while I suggested that we swap roles.
He said, “No, on this trip, physicians paddle while veterinarians fish.”
Sharpe W. Johnson, D.V.M., M.D.
See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.
PS: Interestingly, a member of our own Class of 1980 took the same route. Richard “Rick” Dartt went on to attend and graduate from medical school and still comes to our class reunions to share good memories.
PPS: Dr. Sharpe Winstone Johnson passed away July 9, 2012.