On Thursday, Denmark High School will open as Forsyth County’s sixth traditional high school. While the Danes will soon have their own identity, culture and history, some members of the Denmark High family may be unaware of the existing history of the school’s namesake.
The new high school is named in memory of Dr. Leila Denmark, a well-known pediatric physician who lived and practiced on Mullinax Road near the school for the last 16 years of her seven-decade career. Denmark passed away in 2012 at age 114 and was the fifth-oldest living person in the world and third-oldest living American when she died.
Denmark was renowned for her advice to parents of young children, and her descendants felt the school was an appropriate way to honor her legacy.
“It’s a huge honor for my grandmother and a huge honor for our family,” said grandson Steven Hutcherson. “She was in that area for a good number of years, and it’s just nice that she will get something permanent that will recognize her name and the family name.”
Mary Hutcherson, Denmark’s only child, and Steven Hutcherson, her grandson, recently toured the school and were impressed with what they saw.
“They’ve outdone themselves in terms of design,” Steven Hutcherson said. “[Early on,] I said please make sure the colors are blue and white. My grandmother never wore red in her life. What if we hadn’t talked and it was the red and yellow Denmark Demons? But they’ve done really a good job … of knowing who she was.”
He said he was impressed with what the school would offer students going to college.
But, Denmark was more than an old woman practicing in an old house and told interviewers, “If all you want to talk about is how old my office and how old I am, then I don’t want to talk to you.”
Dr. Denmark was born as Leila Alice Daughtry in what is now Portal, Georgia, in Bulloch County, the third of 12 children.
After high school, she graduated from First District Agricultural and Mechanical School – now Georgia Southern University – and Bessie Tift College, which later merged with Mercer University.
After trying her hand at teaching, she decided to attend medical school, a rarity for women at the time. She was denied admission to Emory University before being admitted to the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta in 1924. She was the lone female graduate in a class of about 50 in 1928.
“Leila was the third female graduate from the Medical College of Georgia,” Mary Hutcherson said.
Soon after graduation, she married John Eustace Denmark and the newlyweds moved to Atlanta, where she began volunteering at Grady Hospital.
Once in Atlanta, she was offered an internship at a new children’s hospital.
“She was the first intern at Egleston Hospital [now part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta] and admitted the first patient to Egleston Hospital back in 1928,” Mary Hutcherson said.
Sometime after Mary was born in 1930, Denmark began practicing in a room of the couple’s home in the Virginia-Highlands neighborhood of Atlanta. She continued to practice only in the family’s home through moves to another home in Atlanta, Sandy Springs and eventually Forsyth County.
“Her practice was her house,” Mary Hutcherson said. “It was always at her house, never anyone else’s because she wanted to run her office her way.”
Coming to Forsyth
While the Denmarks had a lasting legacy in Atlanta, they did not move to Forsyth County until 1985, when she was 87.
The couple first bought the property on Mullinax Road in 1959, where her husband had purchased land with an old tenant house, likely from the 1880s, and a stream running through it, which he turned into a fishing pond. They used the land as a rental property.
“Mullinax at that time was a crooked, gravel road,” Mary Hutcherson said.
In 1985, the couple moved to Forsyth after a 20-year option on their property in Sandy Springs went into effect. They built a new house on the land, and Steven Hutcherson renovated the old house on the property as a new practice, which was originally planned to be used for about six months.
“I think my father thought mother was going to retire at that time,” Mary Hutcherson said. “She wanted to keep on practicing medicine.”
John Eustace Denmark died in 1990, and his wife stayed in Forsyth County until her retirement in 2001 at age 103.
Mary Hutcherson said her mother never charged more than around $10 for a visit and could afford the price due to the low overhead in running her practice, such as having her daughter and husband keep books at her practice with no other employees.
“One time I was at the office and someone called wanting a chart,” Mary Hutcherson said. “They said fax it over, and I said, ‘Fax? We don’t even have a typewriter.’”
Denmark was known for her – often quotable – advice for parents on how to raise their young, which she referred to as “little angels.”
“One of her greatest quotes was, ‘Human beings are the only animal that doesn’t really know how to raise its young,’” Steve Hutcherson said. “And there’s some truth to that, that we all think we’re so smart we avoid a lot of the obvious.”
What she said
The namesake of Denmark High School is Dr. Leila Denmark, a famous Atlanta-area pediatric physician who formerly lived and practiced near where the school will go. Denmark was renowned for her advice for new parents, and below are a few of her best-known quotes.
“The secret of a long life is to eat right and love what you do.”
“You see that little squirrel out there in that tree; she has babies and she has never read a book or been to the doctor-yet she knows just what to do for them.”
“You would never see a mamma cat, or dog or cow feed their young all day long, or give them things to eat that are not good for them.”
“The most important thing that a child can have is good parents.”
“Every child should have a chance. Do what you can to help.”
Steve Hutcherson recalled that after his grandmother’s death, he told a TV reporter she had practiced on up to four generations of a family. When he was recounting the story someone paying their respects, they told him he was wrong.
“She said, ‘that’s not true at all,’ and I said, ‘well, what did I miss,” he said. “She said, ‘In my family, she practiced five generations: she practiced on my grandmother, mother, me, my daughter and grandkids.’”
Denmark was named Atlanta’s Woman of the Year in 1953.
One of the biggest parts of her legacy was co-developing a vaccine for pertussis, or whooping cough, after triplets died from the disease at Central Presbyterian Baby Clinic, where she volunteered.
“I think that really stuck with her,” Mary Hutcherson said. “So she got involved with the research. Eli Lilly was the research outfit. They produced a vaccine that was extremely effective in preventing whooping cough.”
Denmark was an advocate for proper nutrition who told parents only to give their children water instead of sodas, juice or milk.
Mary Hutcherson said that Denmark considered vaccines and baby food – which provided sterile meals for children – the two biggest breakthroughs in her life.
Unheard of in today’s medical field, Denmark did not lean on insurance.
“My mother did not want to bother with insurance; if people couldn’t pay, that was OK,” Mary Hutcherson said. “It was just too much trouble for what little she charged to do the paperwork to send in forms and get very little back.”
In the early 1970s, Denmark wrote a book of her views of childcare titled “Every Child Should Have a Chance” and would give a little piece of advice when she autographed the book.
“Then she would write, ‘Do what you can do to help,’ and underlined it,” Mary Hutcherson said, “directing it to the people that would be raising children.”
James Hutcherson said he and his grandmother – who was called Dr. Leila even by her grandkids – also had a connection as graduates of Medical College of Georgia and was beginning his own medical career as hers was ending.“At the end of her career, when I was just starting mine, we would talk,” James Hutcherson said. “I would ask her questions about tough pediatric patients. We liked to talk about how we were practicing medicine. The way she practiced and the way I practiced were about as different as they come.”