After Dr. Leila Daughtry Denmark’s burial in the Portal City cemetery Friday, friends and relatives gathered at Portal’s First Baptist church for a reception in memory of one of the oldest women in the world.
The skies were steel gray as clouds sprinkled and a cold breeze blew, but those who gathered at the grave site remembered the bright sunshine Denmark brought to others throughout her 114 years in earth.
Born February 1, 1898, Denmark died Sunday, April 1. She was the world's oldest practicing pediatrician until her retirement in May 2001 at the age of 103.
Her daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson, 81, was the center of the reception for her mother Friday, greeting long-lost cousins, hugging friends, and talking about her mother.
“From the very beginning, she was a very determined person,” she said. “She was always focused on the cause, not the symptoms.”
Denmark believed children should not drink milk after a certain age, avoided sugar and advised drinking water and eating sensibly, Hutcherson said.
Denmark was born in Portal, the third of 12 children born to Elerbee and Alice Cornelia Hendricks Daughtry, according to information recorded in Wikipedia files. Hutcherson said the Wikipedia accounts of her mother’s history are the most accurate and concise.
“She was a research person at heart,” she said of her mother, who lived with her only daughter after her retirement.
Denmark’s work led her to help develop the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine with Eli Lilly Company, and in 1935, she was presented the Fisher Prize for her research.
Denmark was the only woman to graduate in 1928 from the Medical College of Georgia. Historical accounts state she changed her mind about being a teacher and pursued a medical career when she was unable to follow her husband in his career travels.
One of Denmark’s favorite phrases was to say someone, usually a child, “looked like the wrath of God,” her daughter said.
A pet peeve of Denmark’s was parents allowing children to “eat junk food, watch TV and get fat, Hutcherson said. ”She wanted them to get their children on a good schedule.”
At 81, Hutcherson is lively, agile and spirited, a living example of health likely enhanced by her mother’s regimen.
In 1971 Denmark published a book on raisin children titled “Every Child Should Have a Chance.” A copy of the book was on display Friday during the reception, along with photographs and articles about the doctor.
In the book, she objected to smoking around children and was one of the pioneers of campaigning against cigarettes. She disapproved of pregnant women using any kind of drugs.
“She was a simple cook,” Hutcherson said. Tales of Denmark refusing cake on her 100th and 103rd birthdays are typical, as she has avoided refined sugar all her life, she added.
In Feburary, Denmark became the 89th verified person to reach the age of 114.
“Her legacy is going to be that she believed in good parenting, good nutrition, and immunizations,” she said.
About 50 community members and relatives enjoyed a pot luck luncheon hosted by the Portal Heritage Society and the Portal community.
Portal City Council member Jerry Lanigan said Denmark was an important part of the town’s history and the community is proud of her.
“She became a doctor but never forgot her roots,” she said. “She was someone we could look up to and did great things in her practice.”
Holli Deal Bragg may be reached at (912) 489-9414.