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In Memoriam: Brig. Gen. Max McLaughlin, M.D.

In Memoriam: Brig. Gen. Max McLaughlin, M.D.

We are saddened to share the passing of Mobile physician Max V. McLaughlin. Known as Dr. Max to many, he passed away peacefully in his sleep on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. He is survived by his wife, Nikki, his children Victor, Anne and Lauren, and his granddaughter Savannah. He leaves a legacy of achievement across Alabama, and his love of this state showed in his dedication to improving the lives of Alabamians from his personal relationships to statewide influence.

Early Life

Dr. Max was born in 1928 to Dr. James D. McLaughlin (1880-1953) and Alma Dovie Whigham McLaughlin (1890-1983) in the tiny town of Blue Springs, Alabama. He was the seventh of eight children, six boys and two girls. Stories of his childhood paint a picture of a funny, clever, and social young man that set the stage for the friends and accomplishments of his adult years. In 1946 he presented a calf he brought by plane to President Harry Truman on the White House lawn in his role as president of the Alabama Future Farmers of America.

Military Career

In 1946 he joined the Army during WWII, becoming a paratrooper in the 11th Airborne, a division known as “The Angels.” He was fond of saying that one’s third jump was the most frightening, as the newness and excitement wore off and the reality of mid-century parachuting technology set in. He was stationed at snowy Camp Haugen for the occupation of Japan and returned to Alabama in 1948 to go to college on the G.I. Bill, hitchhiking from Blue Springs to Tuscaloosa to start his life at the university.

After graduating from college and medical school, he joined the Alabama National Guard. He remained enlisted until age 60, when he retired at the rank of Brigadier General. In 1988, the armory formerly on Museum Drive was renamed to Fort Hardeman/McLaughlin, a fitting tribute to its most vocal advocate. He was known and respected as “The General” to many, with this title softened to the nickname “Gen-Gen” by his granddaughter.

Roll Tide

Dr. Max was fond of saying that he was a Bama fan twice-over, as he was a fan of Bear Bryant when the Bear played for Alabama in the 1930s as well as his more well-known role as Coach in the 1970s. Dr. Max was at Alabama from 1948 to 1952, continuing on to medical school to complete his M.D. in 1956. At Alabama, he joined the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity where he found lifetime friendships with Jack McWhirter and Robert McWhorter. His stories from this time included escapades with his friend Dick Bounds, working on the Rammer Jammer magazine and winning second place in the “World’s Ugliest Man” contest with a costume of raw meat and bones. He loved Alabama football and delighted in their win on the Saturday before he passed.

Medical Career

He started his practice on Dauphin Island Parkway in 1952 when he moved to Mobile. It is difficult to summarize the impact of Dr. Max’s 46-year career as he treated thousands, delivered hundreds of babies, and mentored many other physicians. For example, his own cardiologist had Dr. Max as a family doctor when he was a child and several of the nurses who took care of him used to be patients of his or used to work in his office. He often joked to his own children when they complained of a skinned knee that he “wasn’t on call,” but of course he was. When he retired in 1998 he was still making house calls for his patients, for which he was profiled in the Mobile Press-Register as one of the last doctors to do so. In the summer, he took mission trips to Guatemala to freely treat those in need, armed with only one Spanish phrase: “Dos cervezas, por favor.” His black, old-time medical bag was always present. He cared for his patients as people, and they responded in kind.

Personal Life

Dr. Max passed down independence (and stubbornness) to his children along with the desire to leave the world a better place, albeit with differences in opinion on how to best do so. His son Victor, currently practicing radiology in New York, was born to his first wife Sally, who preceded him in death along with their daughters Holly and Lucy. He was married to his current wife Nikki for forty-four years and lived most of that time in his home on Old Shell Road, curating a magnificent vegetable garden in the front yard and an equally magnificent compost heap in the back. They had two daughters, Anne and Lauren. Anne earned her Ph.D. at Georgia Tech and is a professor in the psychology department at North Carolina State University. Lauren holds a master’s degree in exercise physiology as well as raising Max’s precocious granddaughter, “Savi.” In Dr. Max’s later years, his dog Killer was a constant companion whether it was quail hunting in Baldwin County or riding in the pickup truck to the post office. We hope they are together again.

Medical Legacy

Over ninety-two percent of Alabama’s counties have a shortage of health care providers, particularly primary care physicians. This statistic has worsened as Alabama has grown and as medical students chose specialties other than family medicine. Max McLaughlin was a family doctor his entire career, giving him a dogged passion for improving access to primary care in underserved areas of the state. Over fifteen years ago, he began work with Wil Baker, Ph.D., and the Alabama Medical Education Consortium to help establish the Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine (ACOM), a medical school dedicated to training family practitioners who commit to serving rural areas across Alabama. ACOM graduated its first class in 2017, sending 128 doctors to their residencies in the towns and cities that most needed them. That number is growing every year, resulting in the largest impact of any program in the state dedicated to increasing primary care providers. Dr. Max also remained active locally in the University of South Alabama, serving on their Board of Trustees, was on the ALAPAC Board of Directors, a state medical association committee encouraging physician involvement in legislative affairs, and was a former president of the Alumni Association of the Medical College of Alabama.

In closing, it is impossible to sum up ninety years of life in a few paragraphs. We miss him immeasurably and are grateful for this chance to share some of what made Max McLaughlin so unique.

Celebrating His Life

Memorial Service was held at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Old Shell Road on Thursday, Sept. 13 at 10:30 a.m. In lieu of flowers, please consider donating to the USA Children’s and Women’s Hospital Collins Marie Carr NICU Garden in honor of his late granddaughter, Collins. His family would like to thank the nursing staff in the cardiology unit at Springhill Memorial Hospital and the Springhill Rehabilitation and Senior Residence for their kindness and care and for treating Dr. Max with dignity.

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Splash Down in Haiti and Saving Lives with Richard McGlaughlin, M.D.

Splash Down in Haiti and Saving Lives with Richard McGlaughlin, M.D.

BIRMINGHAM — It was his love of flying and his intrinsic need to help others that originally led Richard McGlaughlin, M.D., to Haiti in 2010. In January 2010, the small Caribbean country of Haiti had been rocked by a devastating earthquake, and the task of getting supplies to the recovering nation was proving more than just difficult.

Transportation of what life-saving supplies to Haiti by cargo ship was nearly impossible because the ships were unable to get to Port-au-Prince. Dr. McGlaughlin, who owned a small, single-engine aircraft read about the situation on a member’s-forum for the Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association. Bahamas Habitat was asking for volunteers to fly missions to Haiti to transport supplies, so Dr. McGlaughlin loaded up his aircraft with medical supplies for a trip “that has changed my life.”

That was almost seven years ago, and Dr. McGlaughlin has continued making trips to Haiti every year since…including one trip that nearly took his life and that of his daughter.

Dr. McGlaughlin, a gastroenterologist in Birmingham, wasn’t sure what to expect when he first arrived at the makeshift medical camps in Haiti. The one thing he knew for certain was that he was there for a reason.

“It started out as an airplane adventure just bringing in the supplies that were needed. But, the needs of the Haitians were so great, I just couldn’t turn my back,” Dr. McGlaughlin said. “I felt I could make a difference here. I wanted to make a difference.”

For Dr. McGlaughlin, the key wasn’t just to volunteer once in a while. His theory is a little different. He believes that to make a difference, a constant presence is necessary.

“If you apply continual force on a single point more than once, not just over a weekend or two, it can open eyes. Even that wasn’t enough to help the Haitians. We would give them medicine and treat their wounds, but medicine runs out and sometimes wounds don’t heal, so visiting just once in a while wasn’t working the way we wanted it to. We knew the Haitians needed more,” Dr. McGlaughlin said.

When a cholera outbreak began to ravage the residents, Dr. McGlaughlin, whose background is in cholera research and treatment, found himself more useful than ever. He began working with St. Luke’s Hospital to not only treat the Haitians infected with cholera, but also help train other aid workers in the treatment protocols.

Soon Dr. McGlaughlin met a very charismatic Catholic priest named Father Rick Frechette, CP, D.O. Father Rick has worked in Haiti through St. Luke’s Hospital for more than 30 years, and when the two met, Dr. McGlaughlin was amazed by just what Father Rick had managed to do so much with so little.

“Father Rick is the type of person who makes you want to be a better person,” Dr. McGlaughlin said. “He finds these resources, these people that need work, and the people at the camp need certain things, and Father Rick just finds ways to put them together. He’s built a community through connections, given work and jobs to those who need it…it’s amazing to be part of that,” Dr. McGlaughlin said.

When Dr. McGlaughlin first started working with St. Luke’s, he likened the atmosphere to a smaller version of the United Nations with volunteers from many nations pooling their resources together. Everyone lived in tents, ate together, and unfortunately worked in less-than-the-best medical circumstances.

Eventually, the need for more permanent facilities became apparent, but without funding, because this is a charity operation, the permanent facilities would most likely take a while. So, Father Rick did what he did best and used the resources he had at hand – cargo containers.

After the earthquake in 2010, supplies had been shipped in to Haiti by cargo ships and housed in large, metal cargo containers. When the containers were emptied, they had served their purpose, for the moment. When Dr. McGlaughlin told Father Rick more permanent facilities were necessary for the more complicated and urgent cases needing some semblance of a sterile environment until a proper facility could be built, Father Rick produced a solution.

“We built a container hospital,” Dr. McGlaughlin laughed! “And, it worked for what we needed at the time. You use what you have, and that’s what we had.”

Dr. McGlaughlin continues to fly to Haiti, lending his medical skills and his flying expertise to the people of Haiti he has come to know and love. One flight stands out more than any other. In January 2012, he and his daughter, Elaine, were about to leave the Miami airport when he suggested she purchase a camera. This would be her first trip to Haiti with him, and he knew she would want to document the occasion. When she returned with a small, disposable camera, Dr. McGlaughlin laughed and suggested she try again with a better camera.

“It was a beautiful day for a flight,” he laughed. “You couldn’t have asked for more perfect conditions for flying…until I noticed the oil pressure was dropping. I didn’t want to alarm Elaine. She wasn’t paying much attention to me. She was studying the book for her new camera, but she finally looked at me when she noticed my voice changed.”

Dr. McGlaughlin said they didn’t have much time once the oil pressure sharply dropped, seizing the engine, and freezing the propeller. His plane was equipped with a parachute, which is now standard on all Cirrus models. With the parachute engaged, the pair had enough time to get out of the aircraft before it was too late. As they sat in the life raft, they watched the medicine and equipment floating to the surface, but they were safe. Then the disposable – waterproof – camera floated up. It wasn’t what they expected, but they made good use of it.

“It happened, and it could have been so much worse. So much worse,” Dr. McGlaughlin said shaking his head. “But, it wasn’t. Elaine and I flew back to Haiti together and finished the trip. I’ve even lectured on behalf of the use of the plane’s parachute. Some pilots won’t use it. It’s there…use it. I’m here today because I did.”

Father Rick, Dr. McGlaughlin and the battalion of volunteers attached to St. Luke’s Hospital in Haiti continue to work in Haiti by building schools and rendering medical aid to residents day in and day out. Dr. McGlaughlin’s next scheduled visit will be in January 2017, and he plans to take as many donated items as his plane will hold.

However, St. Luke’s Hospital is in great need of donations. The physicians and other volunteers donate of their time and skills, but monetary donations can move mountains. If you would like to donate and be a part of the St. Luke’s Hospital movement in Haiti, visit St. Luke’s Foundation for Haiti at

Posted in: Physicians Giving Back

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