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Dr. Donald W. Bales, Sr.

• Jan 15, 2019 at 9:20 AM

Dr. Donald W. Bales, Sr., formerly of Kingsport, died on December 14, 2018. 

He had been living at his son Don’s house in Rocky Mount, NC for the last three months, after moving from the Baysmont/Asbury retirement community in Kingsport, TN.

He was a strong, disciplined man who worked as a physician in Kingsport from 1952 until his retirement at the age of seventy-five.  He was a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and, in the late 1960s, was part of Pres. Lyndon Johnson’s program seeking to connect academic medicine with actual medical practice.  For several years, he was part of the committee overseeing Meharry Medical College (the largest historically black institution for medical education in the US and the oldest one in the South) in Nashville.   On one of these trips, he was delayed and missed his flight home.  On a whim, he went to the Grand Old Opry and ended up seeing the last performance of the original Opry at Ryman Auditorium.  He considered this an example of the “golden horseshoe” (good fortune) that followed him throughout his life.

Dr. Bales served one term as President of the Sullivan-Johnson County Medical Society and two terms as President of the Holston Valley Hospital Medical Staff.  For a short time, he was an Associate Professor at the Quillen Medical School of East Tennessee State University.  He worked for several years on the statewide committee to rehabilitate impaired physicians and also represented the doctors of East Tennessee in the Tennessee Medical Association.    

Dr. Bales was a member of First Broad Street United Methodist Church for sixty-five years, served on the Administrative Board, and was a founding member of the Philosophy Class.

He grew up in Morristown TN, was valedictorian of his high school class, and played football and basketball under legendary coach Petie Siler. (Even into deep old age, Donald could draw diagrams of their football plays and tell you who went where.)  His football buddies remained important to him and he had active email correspondence with many of them for years, including some younger players he had not actually played with, but who had also been coached by Petie.  Donald was the last surviving member of the “Great Team” of 1939 and was inducted into the Morristown Hurricane Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011.

Donald attended Harvard University on a scholarship, but never received his undergraduate degree.  Because of World War II, he had joined the Army which was trying to push doctors through school very quickly.  So, Donald left Harvard in the middle of his junior year in order to enter medical school at the University of Tennessee.  He always said that he felt only half-educated, and once he retired, he lived like a college student for several years, taking classes, working out at the gym, and writing several (unpublished) science fiction novelettes and a 1000-page chronicle of his life.  He was always physically active, but after retirement, also developed a passion for swimming.  He set state records for his age group in all five of his events and won many medals in the National Senior Olympics.  In 2007 in Louisville KY, he entered five events and won a Gold, a Silver, a Bronze, a 4th and a 5th.  He was the US champion in the fifty-yard breaststroke for men ages 85-89.

He loved his family and strove to keep in touch with us all.  He loved that we pulled together in times of trouble.  He felt enormously fortunate to have found and married our mother and to have become a doctor, a profession he truly loved.  He lost his wife, our mother, two and half years ago, after seventy-one years of marriage.  He held on to life for two and half more years.  He remained active and engaged until nearly the end. He was a striver and survivor.  He never complained, and he never gave up.  He valued health and fitness and “practiced what he preached.”  He will be sorely missed.

He is survived by his four children; Ginny (Jay Gitlin), Don (engaged to Sarah Heenan), Bart, and Jack (Dorothy Barnhouse), and six grandchildren:  Basie Bales Gitlin, Katy and Molly Bales, Celia Bales, and Lucy and Ella Bales.

A Celebration of his life will be held on Sunday Jan. 20 at 2 PM at First Broad St. United Methodist Church, Church Circle, Kingsport, TN with a reception to follow in the Church Parlor. 

In lieu of flowers, please contribute to the Kingsport Renaissance Center, Senior Center and Gym in his memory.

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