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Mercer's oldest alumnae dies at 114

Mercer lost its oldest alum on Sunday, April 1.

Dr. Leila H. Denmark a pediatrician who practiced medicine for more than 70 years, died from natural causes at the age of 114 in Athens, Ga.

She was believed to be the first female pediatrician in Georgia and the world’s oldest practicing pediatrician until her retirement in May 2001 at the age of 103.

When she retired, the veteran pediatrician was the oldest practicing physician in the country, according to the American Medical Association. Dr. Denmark supposedly only retired because she couldn’t see as well as she once did.

Dr. Denmark’s first job was at Grady Hospital, and when Henrietta Egleston Hospital opened three month later on the campus of Emory University, she became the first intern and admitted the first sick baby.

In 1932 Denmark opened a private practice at home and continued until her retirement in 2001. Throughout her career, she always kept her office in or near her home, where children and their parents would show up at all hours in need of care.

During the first few years of her practice she was accredited as co-developer of the pertussis vaccine and the modern day DPT vaccination. And she received the Fisher Award in 1935 for her outstanding research in diagnosis, treatment, and immunization of whooping cough.

She treated some of Atlanta’s poorest children as a volunteer at the Central Presbyterian Baby Clinic near the state capitol in Atlanta. Rural workers and other poor people who had no other way to get medical care would bring their sick children to the Clinic.

She received Atlanta’s “Woman of the Year” award in 1953. She was honored not only for her outstanding work as a medical practitioner, but as a capable professional woman.

During her more than 70 years as a pediatrician, she preached preventive medicine and old-school parenting techniques. In 1972 she wrote “Every Child Should Have a Chance,” a book that gives parents tips for raising healthy children. It has gone through several printings.

Denmark received alumni awards from Tift College, Mercer, Georgia Southern and the Medical College of Georgia; and honorary degrees from Tift, Mercer and Emory University.

Mercer honored Dr. Denmark with the Distinguished Alumni Award in 1980. In 1987, Dr. Denmark and her husband, John Eustace Denmark, Mercer trustee from 1957-1962, were recognized as Lifetime Members of the President’s Club of Mercer University.    In 2006, five years after she retired, Dr. Denmark said her recipe for living a long, happy life wasn’t complicated at all.

“You keep on doing what you do best as long as you can,” Dr. Denmark said at the time. “I enjoyed every minute of it for more than 70 years. If I could live it over again, I’d do exactly the same thing and marry the same man.”

She lived independently until she was 106 when she moved to Athens to live with her only daughter. At the beginning of this year she was the 4th oldest verified living person in the world and the 3rd oldest verified living person in the United States.

Her funeral was held on Thursday April 5 at the First United Methodist Church in Athens.

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