It is popularly believed that most families suffer at least one “black sheep,” among them, but some are lucky to have far more “white sheep” in their families. That is true of Andy McMullian, who is blessed with several family members he can legitimately honor, but maybe none more than his grandfather, Dr. Charles Howell Ryals. Dr. Ryals practiced medicine in Dellwood, throughout his adult years, and was revered, not just by his family, but by everyone in Jackson County who knew him. One of his patients, Charles Neel, loved him enough to write poems about him.
Andy loved his grandfather too, and luckily in his pre-school years, his grandfather’s house was within walking distance from his own home. Dr. Ryals’ office was in sight of his house, and across the street from the local country store. Children could buy a treat at the store, and if they saw the doctor sitting on his front porch, they felt comfortable about stopping for a chat with him. He enjoyed children, which made it the place Andy most wanted to be. It was a place where he was loved, and not just him, but every person who came through the office door. Dr. Ryals treated everyone with equal respect and care, whether his patients were white, black, babies, teenagers or the elderly. If called to someone’s home, he never cared whether the home was a grand one or a shack.
To get to his patients, he had to travel by horse and buggy for several years. The horse became so well trained that after making his last house call of the day, Dr. Ryals would simply order the horse to take him home. Then he settled himself in the back of the buggy and slept the rest of the way back. He was considered an “old timey,” country doctor, one who practiced with a heart full of love, and not for a pocket full of money. If patients were unable to pay, he simply asked them to pay when they could, and never charged any more than he figured most people could afford to pay. He charged no more than fifty cents to a dollar for office calls.
He inherited his medical vocation from those who preceded him: his father, Dr. James Conner Ryals, and his grandfather, Dr. William Mann Ryals who practiced in Cowarts and Ashford, Alabama for sixty years. Two of Dr. William Ryals’ brothers were pharmacists with drug stores in Cordele and Lumber City, Georgia. From them, he learned how to mix and make medicines, skills he most likely passed down to his son and then to his grandson, Charles Howell Ryals, who graduated in both pharmacy and medicine from the University of Georgia Medical School in Augusta, Georgia.
Dr. Charles Ryals served his internship in Dellwood, Florida in 1902, where he also found the girl he wanted to marry, Dannie Cherry Nichols. This motivated him to return the following year, and he spent the next 52 years serving Dellwood, and its surrounding communities. Considering his talent and ability, he could have set up a more financially rewarding practice in larger towns or cities, but he felt a bond to Dellwood, and was kept quite busy. For only a five-dollar fee, he delivered over 5000 babies, many of them named in his honor. (The recently retired and popular Sheriff, John McDaniel, took great pride in having been one of those babies, and mentioned it in his autobiography.)
Dr. Ryals did his own part in obeying the Biblical admonition to “be fruitful and multiply.” With the help of his wife, Dannie, he produced eleven children, seven boys and four girls, who, in turn, rewarded him with 19 grandchildren, 42 great grandchildren, and at the time of his death, at age 79, he also had two great-great grandchildren.
By 1910, he was driving his first car, which had a top speed of about 30 miles an hour, although road conditions in Jackson County at that time would only allow about 12 miles an hour of safe driving. Because it was important to reach his patients as fast as possible, he continued to purchase improved versions of cars. He also kept up with developments in medicine, which enabled him to pass along those improvements as well to his patients.
Years later, Dr. Ryals home in Dellwood was beautifully restored by his daughter, Willie Ross McMullian, her husband, Andrew Jackson, and his grandson, Amos McMullian and his wife Jackie. Amos is the Chairman and CEO of Flowers Industries, and has been generous in sharing this lovely and well- maintained property with Dr. Ryals’ descendants, as well as friends of their family. Luckily, I am one of those friends, particularly of my former classmate, Andy McMullian, a brother of Amos, whose family connection has allowed Andy’s classmates and other school friends to enjoy reunions in that special place.
The Bible urges us to “practice hospitality, for thereby, some have entertained angels unawares.” I am no angel, but thanks to the hospitality of the McMullians last spring, I walked around that beautiful, sanctified-by love-acreage in Dellwood, and felt very close to heaven.