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After 44 years, doctor writes Rx for himself: retire

Dr. Douglas Carr tried retirement once before; it didn't take. But when he closes his office on S Fort Harrison Avenue in Clearwater today, 44 years after beginning his practice here, it's for good.

At 77, he is coping with a hearing loss and has decided enough's enough.

What has he enjoyed most about his life as a doctor? "I have no idea," he replies simply, puffing on his cigar.

But he and his wife, Cathie, who worked in his office in the early years before getting busy at home raising four daughters and a son, did enjoy reminiscing this week about the practice that began on Clearwater Beach on July 1, 1951, when:

As a general practitioner before the time of specialists, he treated all the usual ailments plus delivered babies and set broken bones. As the only doctor on the beach, he also treated tourists for sunburn, sore throats and fish hooks.

He made house calls. "Still do," he said this week.

Office calls back then cost $3, plus a dollar more for a shot. House calls cost $5 and delivering a baby, $100.

He was the 21st doctor admitted to the Morton Plant Hospital staff. Today there are 557 on staff.

Clearwater was "a beautiful little town where you'd walk down the street and speak to everybody you passed. . . . The Fort Harrison Hotel is where we all went (for its dining room and ballroom)."

In those days, the Carrs said, most stores closed at noon on Wednesdays. Dr. Carr had office hours on Wednesday afternoons as a convenience for those who had the afternoon off. He took off Thursday afternoons.

Dr. Carr moved his practice to the mainland in the early 1960s, and most of his beach patients followed him, he said. Some of his longtime patients have dropped by his office this week to say goodbye and to bring gifts. Chris Hemmer, 93, a patient for 15 years, came by for a final checkup and then left with almost a look of disbelief on his face.

Kristin Coyne, a former flight attendant, has managed Dr. Carr's office for the past two years. She doesn't know whether she could work for another doctor after serving one she feels is so special.

"It's the caring," she said. "He cares about patients. They're not just a number." She said Dr. Carr visits his patients in the hospital every day even if they are under a specialist's care, and he doesn't charge them for his visits.

She said he comes in on Saturday mornings to call patients he has seen during the week to find out how they're doing and whether the medication he prescribed is working.

Dr. Carr was born in Norton, Va., where his dad was a general practitioner until an illness forced him into a wheelchair. He then became an ear, nose and throat specialist.

After his father died, Doug Carr, 11, and his mother, Bess, moved to Clearwater in 1928. He graduated from Clearwater High in 1935.

Dr. Carr retired in the early 1980s and went to North Carolina for a year. But he wasn't ready to retire. He returned to this area, practiced in Pasco County for two years because of contractual obligations and then reopened an office in Clearwater.

"I was never so glad to get home!" Mrs. Carr said. Many of her husband's former patients were happy, too, that he had come home.

A woman who has been Dr. A woman who has been Dr. Carr's patient for 30 years said in her farewell card that her son "is still searching for a Dr. Carr in Atlanta."