BURLINGTON - Dr. Paul McBee Abernethy, 92, loving husband, devoted father, pioneering ophthalmologist and founding partner of Alamance Eye Center, died peacefully early Wednesday morning at Alamance Regional Medical following failing health for the last month.
He was a consummate Southern gentleman who placed top priority on his family and his career. His life was lived in a spirit of energetic curiosity, steadfast loyalty to family and friends, and constancy in his beliefs.
A native of Rutherford County, he was the son of the late Vardy McBee and Junie Crites Abernethy. His mother died in 1923, when he was only two years old, and his father later married the late Clara Hamrick Abernethy who lovingly raised Dr. Abernethy as her own son. He lived in Rutherford County until he graduated from high school, ranking second in his class. He attended Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C., where he graduated in 1939. In 1943 he became the first graduate of Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, graduating at the age of 21. He earned his way through college and medical school by playing in bands throughout the South and painting houses.
After an internship at Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Ga., he joined the U.S. Army
Medical Corps. He served two years in the Philippines during World War II
and was honorably discharged as a Captain.
When Dr. Abernethy returned to North Carolina, he established a general practice in Forest City and met the love of his life, Nell Tucker, a registered nurse. They were married six months later in 1947 and celebrated their 66th anniversary earlier this year.
Upon completing a residency in the specialty of eye/ear/nose/throat at Duke University Hospital, he moved with his young family to Burlington in 1950 and became the first eye doctor in this community. During his 50 years of distinguished medical service, Dr. Abernethy served as Chief of Staff at both Alamance County Hospital and Memorial Hospital of Alamance, which later merged to become Alamance Regional Medical Center. In addition to providing care to the people of Alamance County, he traveled around the world teaching and learning some of the newest medical technologies. In the 1970s he introduced a new technique in cataract surgery in North Carolina, and what was then cutting-edge technology is now a standard practice in ophthalmology. In the 1980s Dr. Abernethy co-founded Alamance Eye Center and practiced there until his retirement in 1995.
While his family and his medical practice were his top priorities, Dr. Abernethy was well known for his service to the youth of this community through the Burlington Kiwanis Club, and his passionate interest in theater organs and music.
With nearly 60 years in the Kiwanis Club, he is recognized as one of the club's longest serving members. In 2010 he was named the club's Citizen of the Year in recognition of a lifetime of giving to the people of Burlington.
Dr. Abernethy showed musical talent at a young age and became an accomplished organist and pianist. Through the years he served as organist for numerous weddings and funerals, and he has also served as substitute organist at Front Street United Methodist Church.
His interest in theater organs dates back to the 1940s. He was dedicated to the preservation of his favorite instrument in the midst of the widespread neglect and destruction of theater organs. He has a large and impressive theater organ in his home, and several years ago he donated to the Williams High School auditorium an extravagant organ that had played in theaters and movie houses across the country. In 1962 he was a founding member of the Piedmont Theater Organ Society, a chapter of the American Theater Organ Society, and was president of the national organization in the 1970s.
Dr. Abernethy was also an avid amateur radio enthusiast, a licensed small plane pilot and an outstanding photographer. He and his wife also enjoyed foreign travel, playing bridge and fellowship with countless friends through the years.
Dr. Abernethy joined Front Street United Methodist Church in 1950 and remained active in the church and its Sunday school program his entire life.
Survivors include his wife of the home; two daughters, Susan Abernethy (Dennis Rasmussen) and Mary Jo Abernethy (Col. Ret. Lawrence Lane) both of Burlington; two sons, Paul "Mac" Abernethy Jr., (Cyndi) of Liberty and Judge Richard Bruce Abernethy of Gastonia; two grandsons, Richard Bruce Abernethy Jr. of St. Augustine, Fla. and Paul Christian Rasmussen of West Monroe, La.; one granddaughter, Laura Abernethy of Raleigh; one nephew, Rodney Abernethy of Raleigh; one cousin, Rachel Price of Lenoir; and his beloved canine companion, Abigail McBee (Abby).
In addition to his parents, he was predeceased by one brother, Dr. Charles Vance Abernethy of Forest City.
The family would like to express its appreciation to Dr. Abernethy's caregivers, Larry McAdoo, Lacy Madkins and Jo Foust, who lovingly and professionally cared for him in the last month.
Visitation for family and friends is scheduled on Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m. at Lowe Funeral Home.
The funeral service will be Sunday at 3 p.m. at Front Street United Methodist Church, with the Rev. Marshall Old and the Rev. Dr. William Simpson officiating. Burial will follow the service at Alamance Memorial Park in Burlington.
In keeping with his great love of his church and music and in lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorials be made to the Music Fund at Front Street United Methodist Church, 136 N. Fisher Street, Burlington, NC 27215.
You may sign the online register book at www.lowefuneralhome.com