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A full life: Portals Leila Denmark passes at 114
W Leila Denmark Mug
Dr. Leila Denmark

    Born on a 400-acre farm near Portal on Feb. 1, 1898, Leila Alice Daughtry Denmark passed away Sunday at the age of 114 years and 61 days at her daughter’s home in Athens. She was the fourth oldest person in the world at the time of her death, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
    Funeral services are set for Thursday at 1 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Athens. Burial will be at 11 a.m. Friday in the Portal Cemetery.
    She was the third of 12 children born to Elerbee and Alice Cornelia Hendricks Daughtry and went on to become a doctor when few women did so and a renowned humanitarian. She didn't retire from practicing medicine until 2001 at the age of 103.    
    Denmark walked two and one-half miles each day to her two-room elementary school in Bradwell, and then graduated to the middle school the town fathers opened above the city's bank. She then completed her primary education at Statesboro's First District Agricultural and Mechanical High School.
    Denmark went to Bessie Tift College in Forsyth, Ga., where she graduated with an A.B. degree in 1922. While there, she volunteered to teach Sunday school in a nearby cotton mill town. Here, she witnessed firsthand the suffering of workers, especially young children.
    Around 1924, Denmark became engaged to John Eustace Denmark, who grew up on his family farm right down the road from her family. Graduating from Tift, she then enrolled at Mercer College (later university) where she studied chemistry and physics.
    Then, she went on to the Medical College of Georgia, where, she was the only woman in a class of 50. In 1928 she became only the third woman in Georgia to graduate with a Doctor of Medicine degree.
    Denmark and her husband moved to Atlanta where she had her first internship at Grady Hospital, working as their first intern in the segregated Black Ward.
    Denmark left there when the new Henrietta Eggleston Children's Hospital opened on the Emory University Campus, where she admitted Eggleston's first patient. In 1930 she gave birth to her daughter Mary Alice.
     Denmark opened her own private practice (as one of the first female pediatricians in the state of Georgia) in the breakfast room of the house she rented. She also began volunteering at Atlanta's Central Presbyterian Church's Baby Clinic, where she continued to serve for some 50 years.
    Horrified by the effects of the whooping cough in the 1932 epidemic in Atlanta, she tried using the blood of an infected patient to treat another of her patients, and then injected a sick child with his infected mother’s blood. Both subjects recovered quickly.
    Denmark convinced Emory University to start a series of medical trials in conjunction with the Eli Lilly Company, eventually developing a serum in 1944 that became an immunization against whooping cough.
    Her Pertussis Vaccine (now part of the DPT inoculation) is given to virtually every child in America and has saved millions of lives. For her heroic efforts fighting whooping cough, Alice was presented with the highly prestigious Fisher Award.
    In 1940, the Denmarks moved to Sandy Springs and set up another private practice. In 1953 she was honored as Atlanta's "Woman of the Year." Here, she became an advocate for traditional child rearing, and wrote her first book "Every Child Should Have A Chance" in 1971.
    Acknowledging her accomplishments, she received honorary doctorates from Tift in 1972, Mercer University in 1991, and then Emory University in 2000. Leila moved to Alpharetta where she again opened her own private practice. She had no receptionist, but rather a sign up sheet: patients would leave their $10 fee in a basket on the table.
     In 1998, the Atlanta Business Chronicle awarded her the Healthcare Heroes Award; in 2000, the Georgia Legislature named the Georgia 400 highway interchange in Forsyth after her; and in that same year Emory University honored her with their prestigious "Heroes, Saints, and Legends Award".
     In 2001, at the age of 103, Denmark finally closed her private practice, and moved to Athens in 2004, to be close to her daughter and her husband, Grady and Mary Hutcherson.

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