Odes and Shelby McKamey

Odes and Shelby McKamey were among the most cherished local hosts for members of the SHC when the health fair arrived in their remote mountain community of Stoney Fork, Tennessee. Later, after the Stony Fork Clinic was established, the McKameys also housed and hosted visiting doctors who came to the clinic, including Tom John. Odes died in August 2017.

Tom John penned this fond remembrance of Odes and Shelby in November 2019:

“Odes and his wife, Shelby, were the bedrock of our involvement in Stoney Fork, no less than Byrd Duncan had been in Briceville. (It was Byrd, in fact, who originally suggested that SHC should hold a health fair in Stoney Fork.)

Odes and Shelby lived next door to the church pastored by Preacher Leach, an intimidating man steeped in the fundamentals. On the other side of the church lived Papow, Odes’ delightful father. That also became the site of the clinic, which Shelby was in charge of.

Stoney Fork was a well-run clinic. When I was chief resident at the Nashville General Hospital in 1973, I would leave Tuesday afternoons, spend the night with the McKameys, and hold clinic on Wednesday for as long as the patient load demanded. Odes would leave at 3:00am to go to work. I understood that some eyebrows were raised at my being alone in the house with Shelby at night. Odes & Shelby could not have cared less.

Papow was one of my patients. He had hypertension and I would advise him not to eat the beloved sauerkraut they put up every year, because of its high salt content. We had wonderful battles over this . . . and you can imagine the degree of success I had.

The joy of practicing medicine at that clinic was unsurpassed.

I remember donating an antique iron examining table to the clinic. The thank-you note I got from Shelby was the most well-written, elegant one I have ever received. It was one of the treasures I later lost in the fire in my house.

Odes enjoyed having fun. One of his highest delights was giving Bill Dow a hard time. Bill once had a bunch of leaves in the bed of his red Ford pick-up truck. They were for his garden. Odes commented that having a truck-load of leaves was a good idea, because “them things is getting scarce.” Bill handled these plucks to the best of his ability.

Odes was not a musician, but he had a sense of responsibility and did not drink. This made him an indispensable element of The New River Boys, whose capacity to make very good Bluegrass music and to have unbridled fun left little room for getting to performances on time — or for driving. Those responsibilities were strictly left up to Odes. That formula changed a bit when the Good Doctor Davidson joined the group, but Odes retained his indispensability.

I know that for Bill Dow, for me, and for numerous other SHC folks that our friendship with Odes was an integral part of the profound influence that the Student Health Coalition had on our lives.”

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