The Human Touch
H. David Bruton, M.D., considers himself one of the luckiest people in the world -- he was able to go to the "university."
"I just dearly love the university, what it means, what it does," he says. "The university took a country farm boy, raised on a dirt farm in Montgomery County, and showed him the library."
He is referring to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the beloved alma mater that he credits for directing his youthful ambitions.
It's his ambition, hard work and entrepreneurial vision that are responsible for easing the burdens of many North Carolinians.
Bruton's lifelong dedication to improving the welfare of less fortunate people was recognized when he was honored recently as the 2006 Man of the Year by the Moore County Community Foundation.
Bruton says his family's legacy of public service goes back generations, when his uncle Wade Bruton served as the state's attorney general and his mother's father, "Granddaddy Burt," served in the state House and Senate during the Depression. His father, Earl, was a well-known sheriff in Montgomery County for 18 years. David Bruton says his family "upbringing" and their many blessings instilled the responsibility to "pay your civic rent."
He graduated from UNC School of Medicine in 1961 and served his residency in pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore, Md. While working on his residency he decided he would make the U.S. Air Force an offer they could not refuse.
"I went over to Georgetown (Washington, D.C.), where the Air Force had their Quonset huts and were making Barry Plan assignments," he says. "I was telling the fella there that I'd make a deal with them. If I could take my family with me I'd go to Southeast Asia and would stay an extra year.
"The fella was a West Point classmate of my older brother, Dudley, who was serving in the Air Force. While I was in talking with the colonel, this fella calls my brother and said, 'Hey Dud, there's a nut out here named Bruton from North Carolina and he's trying to get over to Vietnam.' And Dud says, 'Send him down here so I can look after him.' So, I did my Air Force time at Maxwell Air Force Base, where Dudley was serving. I was chief of pediatrics. It was a good duty. We were rich -- given I was barely able to pay my rent as in intern and resident."
Starting a Practice
After serving in the Air Force, Bruton joined his friend from medical school, Bill Clarke, and started Sandhills Pediatrics on Aug. 8, 1966.
"Both of us were vigorously counseled by our mentors not to go into retail pediatrics," says Bruton. "We had been good students and residents. They wanted us to stay on the faculty, but we both wanted to practice pediatrics. We were academic-type kids. Both of us had published research -- something most medical students and residents do not do. The faculty thought we'd serve medicine better if we stayed in academics vs. opening a retail operation."
Clarke and Bruton became the 14th and 15th members of the staff at Moore Memorial Hospital.
Bruton later served as chief of the hospital's medical staff.
"I think we did a good job taking care of children in the area," he says.
Bruton retired from Sandhills Pediatrics in 1997. Bill Clarke died of cancer in 1982, but not before he established the neonatal intensive care nursery at Moore Regional Hospital which now bears his name.
Bruton's service to children was not limited to medicine; he found some of his greatest challenges while serving as a member of the Moore County Board of Education during the consolidation and integration of the county's school system in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
"My service on the Moore County Board of Education is one of the things I value the most in my public service," he says. "We were able to achieve one of the first federal Department of Health, Education and Welfare Certificates of Integration. We did it by staying out of the courts, managing the process at a speed that our people could understand and accept. We fully, completely and honestly integrated Moore County's schools. There was a lot of passion not to change."
It was during that time that he met Jim Hunt, who eventually became governor of North Carolina.
"Jim was involved with the Board of Education in Wilson County, and he came to see what we were doing at Pinecrest High School," recalls Bruton. "They wanted to accomplish the same thing in Wilson County."
Bruton says that sometime later a buddy of his brought Hunt to his pediatric office.
"He talked about child development in a way that I knew he would be a valuable asset for the children," he says. "So I worked to help get Hunt elected lieutenant governor."
"We stayed tight friends," he says. "Later, when Hunt became governor he appointed me to the North Carolina State Board of Education, but he did not tell me he planned on making me chairman until after I accepted the position on the board."
He laughs. "I found out when I was watching public television," he says . "He said he wanted me to be chairman, but he did not have the votes on the board. I had to convince three Republicans to support me and not the lieutenant governor, who wanted to be chairman. That was a fun time."
Under Bruton's chairmanship during 1977-1982, the State Board of Education started one of the first school testing programs in the country. Bruton had to quit his tenure as chairman prematurely because Bill Clarke was diagnosed with cancer, and Bruton could not take the time from their pediatric practice.
Bruton recalls that The News & Observer of Raleigh did an editorial on his service when he came home to Moore County saying, " ' the children of North Carolina, read, write and count a little better,' which I thought was very nice of them."
"It became obvious to me that we needed to get them employed," he says. "The only really good welfare program is a good job."
When working the employment issue, Bruton tackled it with an entrepreneur's vision. He and his staff started Connect.inc, a non-profit organization, which combines skilled counselors with sophisticated computers and communications technologies to help unemployed post-welfare clients find and keep jobs, develop careers and build assets.
"Our people essentially become a friend and mentor with the post-welfare families. We helped them get a job and stay on the job," he says. "A child of working parents has a better life, does better in school, and is healthier," underscoring his concern for children.
Connect.inc.'s success has meant greater economic security for thousands of low-income families, scattered across a dozen rural counties. Since it started in 2000 the organization has added $106,587,000 the paychecks of post welfare clients. In 2004 Connect.inc won a half-million dollar prize from the Annie E. Casey Foundation as the Best Family Support Program in America.
"It is the modern way to do social work," explains Bruton. "The real problem with welfare was not the money; it was the way we thought about the welfare system. The system was, 'Prove to me you are poor enough and I'll get you a welfare check,' which guarantees that the welfare client will continue to be poor. Now the system is, 'Let me help you get a job' so you can improve your life. We had to change the system."
Bruton's dedication to mission did not go without notice. In 2000 he was awarded the Order of the Longleaf Pine, one of the most prestigious awards presented by the governor. He also received the Public Servant of the Year Award in 2000 from the North Carolina Center of Child and Family Health. Bruton was named a Distinguished Alumnus by his beloved UNC School of Medicine in 1980.
Bruton also found time to exercise another family tradition -- directing banks. His "Granddaddy Burt" helped to organize a bank in Biscoe, during the depression years. His other granddaddy, David Dudley Bruton, served as a founding director of the Bank of Montgomery in Troy. He served as president from 1935 until 1941. Years later, grandson David Bruton, M.D., became a director of First Saving Bank of Moore County (FSB) which merged with FirstBancorp (FBNC), successor to the Bank of Montgomery.
Bruton is proud of service on FSB's board and now FirstBancorp's board. He has seen the bank's assets grow from under $100 million to over $2 billion dollars. Being a part of closing the banking loop with his grandfathers, "makes me feel good," says Bruton.
Bruton feels that low-income people often stay poor because they do not have access to the banking system. Many banks do not like to open accounts for low-income people because they don't' make money on them.
"We, First Bank, set up bank accounts for them free of charge," he says. "Where possible, their paychecks are electronically deposited. We issue them a debit card. Now, they have more money to spend. Before, they often had to pay significant fees to get their paychecks cashed, and cash is much easier to lose. We even teach them how to keep their bank balances, encourage savings and help them rebuild their credit."
Bruton's list of achievements includes his leadership in organizing the Sandhills Community Care Network (SCCN). He was the founding chairman of SCCN. According to Bruton, the not-for profit organization works with Medicaid patients and their healthcare providers to improve the quality of care provided and to manage Medicaid costs more effectively.
"We have saved North Carolina millions," he says.
The program, which includes Moore, Montgomery, Hoke, Richmond, Harnett, Lee and Scotland Counties, uses case managers to work on problems such as diabetes, asthma, hypertension, congestive heart failure and the inappropriate use of the emergency room. SCCN helps patients get the care they need in the most efficient manner. A current major project is to establish an electronic health record in the family practices in SCCN's seven counties.
Moore Free Clinic
Many other Moore County nonprofits have been touched by Bruton's vision and leadership, including the Moore Free Care Clinic in Carthage. Bruton credits Dr. Mark Wethington, the former pastor of Southern Pines United Methodist Church, as the true visionary behind the creation of the free clinic, which was formed as an outgrowth of a church-sponsored health fair.
"That health fair showed us there was a great need for health care among the uninsured, but here is more demand than we can meet," he says. "I am proud of the clinic, its work and the many dedicated physicians, nurses and volunteers that give their time to help the people of Moore County that lack access to health care because they are the working poor."
The clinic, which is just 18 months old, has treated nearly 1,200 patients. It does not receive federal or state funding and is dependent upon private grants and community donations. The free clinic was recently awarded $40,000 from the Moore County Community Foundation to assist with hiring a nurse who will help expand services to the growing number of uninsured.
Bruton, who has served as the clinic's founding chairman, will step down in January to make way for what he calls "new blood" and ideas.
Bruton says he is busier now in his retirement than when he worked for a living. Along with his work with Connect.inc., SCCN, and the free clinic he continues to serve as the secretary, Medical Mutual Insurance Company; delegate, American Medical Association, House of Delegates; trustee, North Caroliniana Society; director, North Carolina Institute of Medicine; adjunct professor, UNC School of Medicine and director, FirstHealth of the Carolinas.
Bruton's dedication to public service and his compassion for improving the human condition are surpassed only by his love and energy for his family. He and his wife of nearly 50 years, Frieda, raised three children, David, Evelyn and Ann -- all graduates of UNC. The couple have eight grandchildren.
Now that they are retired, they take time each year to take the "entire brood" on trips to places like London, the Grand Canyon and most recently, China. Bruton says he wants his grandchildren, "to grow up with a world perspective that travel provides."
The Brutons raised their children in Southern Pines, where they had easy access to schools and a neighborhood full of kids. Bruton says he never liked "living up close to someone," so he decided to look for some land. They found a little tract of land near Southern Pines. Using plans that Bruton drew up for a solar home and the labor of some young men who were good carpenters, they built their home at Someday Farm nearly 27 years ago.
"We worked for six months on this house," he says. "I pretty much made a deal for everything in it. The house plans changed based upon what I could find on sale."
He recalls a deal he made with Harris Blake, now a state senator, for a stack of split, warped, dirty and dusty lumber that Blake had sitting at his Pinehurst hardware.
"I asked Harris what he wanted for that pile of old lumber and he said, 'I don't know David. I do not know how much I have in it. I have to figure out how many board feet I have first.'
"I said, 'Harris, it looks like it's about how much I need, so let's make a deal for the pile. So we did. We put common roofers up on the ceiling and had about 20 boards left over. I think it makes a nice ceiling."
Bruton says with a laugh, "Harris is such a good business man he got all the lumber was worth. He made me feel I got a deal. That's the essence of a good deal -- when both sides feel they got a good deal."
Bruton's Someday Farm has woodlands full of berries, wildlife and a lake full of bream and bass to challenge the fishing skills of his enthusiastic grandchildren. The Brutons have extended their warm hospitality to many over the years and David is often the "chef of state" at the cookouts at the farm.
"We love sharing this place with everyone," he says. "There's always room for a few more friends at the dinner table."
When asked why the name Someday Farm, he quickly replies, "Well, don't you have something you want to do someday?"
David Bruton has plenty to do today and plans for tomorrow -- and many North Carolina citizens have better and healthier lives today thanks to the fairness and generosity of that farm boy from Montgomery County with a vision.
Claudia Watson is a Pinehurst freelance writer and a member of the Moore Free Care Clinic board of directors. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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