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9th July 2018

Dr. Charles Darby Jr, 85: “I started running in the 1960s. Everyone else was out smoking marijuana.”

An accomplished paediatrician and philanthropist, Dr. Charles Darby Jr. has dedicated his life to children’s health and wellbeing.

Playing sport can get you places
I grew up in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, a small fishing village just outside of Charleston. When I wasn’t helping my dad in the family boatyard, I was playing ball. All I thought about was sports. Football, basketball, baseball – I loved them all, but was most suited for football. I guess I must’ve been good at it too because the state’s military college recruited me. My parents didn’t go to college, and I hadn’t given much thought to it myself. When I got the call to play football, I thought “Why not?”

Aim high and don’t be afraid to change course
I liked biology and was making good grades at The Citadel, so I decided to make something of myself and switched my major from business administration to pre-dentistry. On a lark, I applied to the University of Virginia dental school and was immediately accepted. About a year later, I returned home to Charleston to study medicine. I enjoy kids and was drawn to paediatrics from the beginning. Adults generally don’t take care of themselves, which is frustrating. Kids usually get well.

Helping children get well is immensely rewarding
I did a lot of research, including work on the development of the MMR vaccine, and did a stint at Great Ormond Children’s Hospital in London. I moved the whole family over. We built the first Children’s Hospital in the Southeast US in the 80s and a research institute too. It’s consistently ranked among the top in the nation. Now, we’re building the second Children’s Hospital, which should open in Charleston in 2019. There’s a lot of satisfaction in helping one child get well, but when you can magnify that and do things like create a nice facility that helps many children get well – that’s beyond gratifying.

Good health is a blend of good luck and good living
I officially retired at the age of 78, but I haven’t stopped working and I don’t really see age as a factor in enjoying what I love to do. Sure, I can’t do some things that I used to, but I’ve been very fortunate to maintain good health. Some of that is my doing, some of it is just good fortune. I’ve followed a low-fat diet and daily fitness practice since 1955. I’ve always been an exercise buff and enjoy tennis, swimming, and running. I didn’t start running until the 1960s. Everyone else was out smoking marijuana. People would yell out of their windows at me, and once someone threw a beer can at me. Hiking is one of my favorite activities, and I love hiking in St. Kitts at my family’s resort. They tell me I’m the oldest man to hike the island’s dormant volcano.

Try to be a good role model
My wife Joyce and I have been married for 65 years and have 5 children, 16 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren. Being a good role model is the best advice I can give them all, I always tell them to practice moderation in everything and be realistic about life. Learn to compromise and make the best of what you have. My life motto? “Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” But I think Mick Jagger said it best: “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime, you just might find you get what you need.’”

Interview by Katherine Verano. Photography by Charlotte Elizabeth
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