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  • Kate L.

Guest Post: An Appalachian Education

Smart and educated are not exactly the first words that come to mind when picturing women from Appalachia. Unfortunately, in most media images, Appalachian women are painted in many lights such as religious zealots, drug addicts, and harlots. Think Daisy Duke from the Dukes of Hazard or to a more modern-day portrayal of Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett from Orange is the New Black. Thanks to my grandparents and their version of an Appalachian education, the roles played by the women of my family are entirely different.

Russell “Doc” and Leelah Davis arrived in Pikeville, Kentucky in 1951 largely in part to friendships made with mountain natives while in medical school at the University of Louisville. My grandfather, Doc Davis, was an experienced and highly trained urologist who was also a Korean War veteran. My grandmother, Leelah Davis, was his brilliant and beautiful bride who delighted in teaching others skills in anatomy, physiology, and chemistry. While enrolled as students, sparks flew and the rest was history. Leelah eventually left medical school to marry her beloved Doc and, yes, you heard that right. She was a female medical student in 1945.Their mutual love of science, education and helping people was something that drew them together and would resonate throughout the rest of their lives, and would have a profound effect on future generations of their family.

I have always loved hearing stories about my grandparents. My favorite stories are those that allow their personalities to shine through and remind me that I am theirs, and they are mine. Always a force to be reckoned with, my grandmother once pulled an epic stunt on a reporter. She was displeased with how the media had been portraying female medical students (imagine that!) and so she casually slipped a kidney from a cadaver into his equipment bag. As I said, she was not a lady to be taken lightly. Doc was, in many ways, Leelah’s perfect counterpart. He loved the people of Appalachia and could not fathom leaving, even when presented with better job opportunities. He was the type of country doctor who made house calls, attended funerals, and wanted to really know his patients. My father told me a story of how he had once rear-ended a lady in town. When he went to deliver a check for car damages, she told him about how Doc, decades earlier, had given her money at her husband’s funeral when she couldn’t even afford to bury him. She never forgot his kindness. Both of those stories remind of the best parts of the people of Appalachia; strong and unyielding to causes we hold dear, yet gentle and full of compassion when it comes to helping our people.

The love between Doc and Leelah led to five children and eleven grandchildren. Luckily for them, nine of us were girls and born with genes ready to take on the world. As children,we spent countless hours learning and loving in my grandparent’s hillside home. Long afternoons were spent listening to Leelah talk about her hummingbirds and love of all things wild, writing letters that we just knew would be included in the next copy of Reader’s Digest, and playing doctor with Doc’s infamous medical bag. As we grew older and had less time for mountain games of make-believe, the message always stayed the same. Dream big, hold your head high, persevere. This mountain grit and resilience has stayed with us today as we have gone onto become entrepreneurs, tech innovators, business owners, educators, and physicians. We work hard, help others, and always remember the lessons taught to us by two remarkable people.

Many say a good education from Appalachia isn’t possible, but yet, here were are. Living proof that some of our best and brightest minds are born righthere in these magical mountains. We are the granddaughters our grandparents dreamed of, and we aren’t finished yet.

Guest post by Kate L.

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