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At 100 (on no meds), Dr. Moore reflects on a full life

Dr. P.J. Moore talks about his medical career that spanned eight decades. Dr. P.J. Moore talks about his medical career that spanned eight decades.

FLETCHER — When he earned his medical degree from Loma Linda University in December of 1943, P.J. Moore Jr. didn’t need to look for work.

 

“Our whole class was drafted about August of ’43 into the military as PFCs,” Moore said. So, at the age of just 23, off the new surgeon went, first to a hospital in Chicago, then to Army Field Service School and finally, in early 1945, to Lawson General Hospital outside of Atlanta. His job was to operate on amputees from the Battle of the Bulge.
“They would fly them in by the planeloads,” he recalled. “I had a ward of 34 beds. They would fill ‘em up. We’d get their wounds clean and re-amputate at the proper level and fashion their stumps so they would be not painful and would fit the prosthesis. I operated every day except Saturday and Sunday from January to December, frequently multiple times.”
The hours were long and the pay short, but Dr. Moore loved surgery from the beginning.
“I loved to use my hands,” he said. “I really enjoyed surgery, getting in there and taking out what was wrong and helping people.”
To say that he had a long and successful career is to risk understatement. When Moore gave up his medical license just four years ago, at age 96, he was the oldest active surgeon in the state, the medical board told him. He turns 100 on Thursday and his wife, Elaine, had planned a communitywide birthday celebration on Sunday. That's been called off now because of recommendations from public health officials to avoid large congregations of people.
Moore is on no medication and exercises regular. Until shoulder problems recently sidelined him, he was playing golf at a high level. A shelf in his study is filled with championship trophies.

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Born on March 12, 1920, at Mary Black Clinic in downtown Spartanburg, Pierce Jones Moore Jr. was the only son of Pierce Jones Moore Sr. and his wife, Lucretia.
His father, P.J. Sr., was a self-educated 10th grade who went to work as a cotton buyer.
“He would buy cotton from these farmers and these local cotton gins and sell it to the textile mills,” he said. “Twice in his lifetime he led the world in cotton sales for McFadden Bros.,” the second largest cotton broker in the world. “I’ve had presidents of these cotton mills tell me, ‘Doc, whenever P.J. Moore tells me that we’re getting such and such, that’s what we get. We can trust that man, he’s a man of his word.’ And that’s what he taught me. Be a man of your word.’”
After graduating from Spartanburg High School, Moore completed pre-med studies at Southern Missionary College in Chattanooga and Pacific Union in California.
Moore always played sports and was gifted especially in two — baseball and golf.
He was a hurdler in high school and played baseball and football. When he was serving as an intern in Atlanta during the war, he and a friend persuaded a bakery to sponsor a baseball team. Moore played first base on a team that included Cleveland Indians pitcher Bill “Lefty” Perrin. The Army team played the Air Force and played a team from a nearby federal prison. Hall of Fame Chicago White Sox shortstop Luke Appling and Johnny Peski of the Red Sox were two of several big league players Moore faced on the Army baseball team.

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After World War II, the Army sent Dr. Moore to Puerto Rico, where he met an Ohio farm girl who had volunteered as an Army nurse. He and Dora Deane “Dee” Crumley married in July of 1947. That year, Moore was serving as a resident at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, where he worked a 36-hour shift followed by 12 hours off. The pay? $20 a month plus room and board and scrubs.
“That was a tough year,” he said.
He took his wife and returned home to Spartanburg, where he made $50 a month. In January 1949, he and Dee moved to Pickens, S.C., and opened a surgical practice. There was no hospital, thus no operating room. An “old country doctor” would drip ether while Dr. Moore operated on patients laid out on an X-ray table.
“I had been in Pickens about four years, two months and the entire executive committee (from Fletcher) came down to Pickens and asked me if I would come up,” he said. Then known as Mountain Sanitarium, the 70-bed hospital had lost its two physicians, had no credit — it could buy supplies by c.o.d. only — and a boarding academy, elementary school and school of nursing to support.
“It was in bad shape,” he said of the campus. “I realized that one doctor wasn’t going to cover everything. And I prayed to the Lord, ‘If you want me up there be sure that Dr. Pearson will come, too.’”
He arrived in May of 1953 and with Pearson’s help rehabilitated the hospital’s reputation and grew its patient base. Soon Mountain San had to add a new building.
Although he delivered babies during his surgical residencies in Atlanta and Spartanburg, routine deliveries were not part of his practice at Mountain San, which later became Park Ridge. As the chief surgeon at Fletcher, Moore got the call when the hospital had a difficult delivery. As his medical career continued into a sixth, seventh and eighth decade, he encountered patients who were the great-grandchildren of his early patients. He looked after four or five generations of Justuses, the Edneyville apple growing family. As much as anything, his entire career was one long medical mission.
“At least half of my operations were not paid at all,” he said, and his cut of the paid surgeries was usually half. He stayed at Park Ridge until 1982. He and Dee moved to Saudi Arabia for four years to handle medical needs of U.S. military personnel, the U.S. Embassy and the Joint Economic Commission. When he returned to Fletcher in 1987, he signed on as a surgical first assistant, working for another 29 years in operating rooms at Park Ridge, Mission, St. Joe’s, Pardee and St. Luke’s hospitals and later outpatient clinics. Three weeks after his 90th birthday, he did six surgeries.

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P.J. and Dee, who died in March 2005, had five children, all successful and all but one in a medical field. He has 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. He married Elaine 12 years ago, at age 88.
Born a Seventh Day Adventist and always devout, Moore put service ahead of self throughout his 70 years of medicine, 30,000 surgeries and 1,000 babies birthed. He never turned anyone away due to race, religion, ethnicity or ability to pay. “He has lived a life of uncommon service and skill,” a biographical sketch in the program for Sunday’s birthday celebration observes. “His family as well as his colleagues, friends, patients and community members are blessed to have known him.”
While he’s had two prostate surgeries and survived colon cancer, his most serious health threat was a ruptured esophagus. Moore looks decades younger than his age, takes no medication and only visits his doctor for an annual physical.
“I think there are several factors” that account for his remarkable health, he said. “One is no smoking. Never smoked, never drank, mostly vegetarian. My dad was a hunter and fisherman and growing up I ate fish and deer, chicken but no pork ever, and very little beef.” His family always raised a large vegetable garden and drank powdered milk.
Although the bad shoulder has sidelined him lately, Moore excelled at golf well into his 90s. Two years ago, when he was 98, he and his son, Bill, won the Carolina Adventist Golf Association tournament at Mount Mitchell with a captain’s choice score of 74.