About Dr. C. M. Cash Elementary
He always called himself a country doctor, though his horse and buggy days ended before he moved to San Benito in 1914. The saga of Dr. Clarence M. Cash is a convincing argument for the return of the country doctor-or in modern terminology-the general practitioner. He was honored in 1953 as General Practitioner of the Year by the Texas Medical Society. Just two weeks earlier, on his eighty-ninth birthday, he was called out of bed at four a.m. by an emergency call from a man he did not know. He never refused night calls.
A product of the old time preceptorship training, Dr. Cash spent only one year at medical school. Yet his knowledge of medicine brought him recognition by distinguished colleagues, many honors and the admiration and love of an entire community for nearly five decades. During his years of service he delivered more than 5200 babies. Many were named for him. Some had a parent or grandparent he had brought into the world. With his spare, slightly stooped frame, halo of white hair, and gentle face with the constant trace of a smile, he was the image of the traditional family doctor. Though he finally gave up obstetrics, he never actually stopped medical practice.
He resumed teaching as his health improved. Meanwhile he had developed an intense interest in medicine. Dr. Boyd Cornick, who had come to Texas from England, was so impressed that he accepted him for preceptor training. For three grinding years-until 1896-he read the British doctor’s medical books by night and was at his elbow much of each day. Two months after entering Fort Worth Medical College (later absorbed by Baylor University), the 31-year- old student passed the examination administered by the District Medical Board. His extraordinarily retentive memory and Dr. Cornick’s tireless training had exceeded the board’s requirements. While he was legally qualified to practice medicine, there were surgical procedures that he wanted to observe and he remained the rest of the year. Thereafter, he never stopped going to school. For the next 55 years he periodically enrolled for postgraduate or refresher courses in St. Louis, Chicago and New Orleans.
His first year of practice at Gulon, Texas (1898), was carried out on horseback from saddlebags given him by an old doctor who had retired. Frequently he rode 20 or 25 miles to visit patients. About two miles from Guion he founded the town of Tuscola by building a drug store and blacksmith shop and arranging for a general merchandise store and a change in the stagecoach route between Abilene and Ballenger. In 1908 he moved to Abilene where he practiced eight years. He was the author of Abilene’s first milk ordinance. When Dr. and Mrs. Cash moved to San Benito in 1914, their son, Dr. Auda V. Cash (deceased) succeeded him as city and county health officer. Their other children, also grown, were: Dr. Clarence M. Cash, Jr., Beaumont (deceased); Mrs. Hermia (Paul) Cottrell, San Benito; and Mrs. Ruth (E. B.) Edwards, San Antonio.
Dr. Cash pursued his medical career with a singlemindedness not approached by any other interest except Masonry, in which he received many honors and held high offices. He became a Shriner in the first class of the Fort Worth Masonic Temple in 1914 and a member of Alzafar Temple organized in 1916 in San Antonio. In October 1949 he flew to Washington where he was coroneted October eighteenth as a thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Mason, the highest honorary recognition in the fraternal order.
In his profession, he was a stickler for ethics. He would not permit newspapers to report a unique surgical procedure he devised and carried out with the aid of a local dentist to save a boy’s jaw, though the operation later was recorded in a medical journal. In the early years he performed many operations on a kitchen table. The nearest hospital was in Brownsville. Mother Cowden, a nurse, assisted with maternity cases at her home. For 37-1/2 years, Dr. Cash received patients in the same suite of offices at the head of the stairs over the San Benito Bank & Trust Co. Portable kerosene stoves were used for heating at first and the phone was operated with a crank.
Dr. Cash had a high sense of civic pride. He served two separate terms as San Benito mayor and frequently on the city commission. He rarely missed a local football game. From 1920 to 1952 he was the volunteer physician for the San Benito Greyhounds. During the 1939 season it was discovered that he had delivered every member of the first team and most of the entire squad. He organized the Cameron County Health Unit and, with Dr. B. 0. Works of Brownsville, was instrumental in organizing the Tri-County Medical Society (1919-1938).
Scarcely a year had elapsed after Dr. Cash built his first home in San Benito, on a 7-acre site on present Cash Street, before bandits began harassing the lower Texas border. He drove without headlights on night calls, sometimes accompanied by a Texas Ranger. Daytimes he often was a courier between military reconnaisance units without arousing suspicion, since he and his Model T were well known throughout the countryside. He was present during the first encounter with bandits in which a soldier was killed. A deputy sheriff was wounded. Shots were exchanged en route as he drove to the hospital in Brownsville with the wounded deputy.
Mrs. Cash lost her life when the 1919 hurricane hit Corpus Christi where she was visiting relatives. Her sister also was swept from a warehouse rooftop by the tidal wave. Her niece, Esther Fuller (Mrs. U.S. Allison, San Benito), was able to save her brother Ted, who had been knocked unconscious.
In 1925 Dr. Cash married Mrs. Mona Reed, a native of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who had three children, Robert K. Reed, Ruth K. Reed (Mrs. Paul Wright) and John G. (Jack) Reed. She was the ideal physician’s wife, combining a sense of humor and much patience with an understanding of her companion’s compulsion to minister to the needs of patients without regard to his personal or financial welfare.
On a cold, rainy night in 1945, his car was forced off the highway while he was en route to the Valley Baptist Hospital, a modern brick building on F Street. (The hospital had opened in 1922 in a rundown frame building a few blocks away.) The physician and his car plunged into a ditch. The doctor hitchhiked the rest of the way to Harlingen, delivered a baby and then submitted to an examination that revealed three broken ribs. Twelve days after being operated on for appendicitis at age 88, he was receiving patients in the living room at his home. Whenever the phone rang at night he was awake and alert instantly. He also taught himself to fall asleep almost as easily. This habit of napping a few minutes in a chair or on a hospital cot while waiting to attend a patient in labor enabled him to maintain a rigorous schedule envied by doctors years younger.
A great many honors came to Dr. Cash. One of the most meaningful was dedication of a Dr. Cash room at Valley Baptist Hospital. The 1940 project was initiated and financed by mothers of some 200 babies he had delivered. They presented him a scrapbook filled with pictures of “Dr. Cash babies.” Included were newborns, toddlers at every stage, school children, some college students and a few mothers. Pages devoted to families included the six younger children of Mr. and Mrs. J. Scott Brown: Betty, Kate, Scott Willis, Leefe, Edward and Felicia Ann (Tad). Another group of six were children of Judge and Mrs. Joe Gerusa of Los Indios.
“Dr. Cash Day” was enthusiastically celebrated in San Benito in September 1952. Highlighting the event was the dedication of a new elementary school named in his honor. He missed the surprise party Valley Shriners had planned for his eighty-fifth birthday. On that date he registered for a special postgraduate course in obstetrics at Tulane University. It was his fifteenth refresher seminar in the university’s Medical School in New Orleans.
His greatest honor professionally was recognition in 1953 by the TMA as Texas’ General Practitioner of the Year. In his speech to the group, he warned that their profession was educating “too many specialists” at a time when more country doctors or practitioners were needed. “A general practitioner doesn’t acquire ‘the personal touch’ by reading books,” he said. “It comes from years of listening to patients.”
In his late years Dr. Cash tried to retire but never quite succeeded. After he sold his office, he and Mrs. Cash built a summer home at Junction. Returning to San Benito in the fall of 1958, the couple was intercepted near Sebastian. They received a roaring welcome at Ballenger Farms by the entire San Benito Greyhound Band and a crowd of other well-wishers. After a party with refreshments, the caravan escorted them home.
Despite his devotion to his profession, Dr. Cash was never a “workaholic.” Always the studious type, he read as much as time allowed. He was able to assimilate almost any article he was especially interested in and usually could recall its contents weeks or months later. His interest in Civil War history may have started with stories heard in his childhood about how his family extracted salt from the earth floor of the smokehouse after commercial salt became unavailable. He had a keen insight into economic and political problems of the day and a whimsical sense of humor that was part of his philosophy. Knowing his frail health, a doctor friend chided him for always saying “Fine” when asked how he felt. He explained he had learned years before that if you told people “Not so good,” half of them didn’t give a damn and the other half were glad of it.
His death October 13, 1961, was the result of an accident. He was 97. Descendants who are well known in the Valley include his daughters, Mrs. Hermia Cottrell, San Benito; Mrs. Ruth Edwards, San Antonio; and a grandson, Brigadier General Ben Edwards (Ret.), Alexandria, Virginia, who as a child spent many vacations in San Benito.