For more than half a century, many Gaston County residents have counted on a Dr. Bolin as their family doctor.
The late Dr. Lewis Bryant Bolin first set up a family practice in Gastonia in 1966, back when Lyndon Johnson was president and “Bonanza” was the most-watched show on American TV.
Joining that practice in 1985 was Bolin’s son, Dr. Lewis Bryant Bolin Jr., a recent graduate of Wake Forest Medical School.
Over the years, the practice evolved into Eastridge Family Medicine, now located on Remount Road.
But at the end of the day on Friday, Dec. 31, Bryant, now 65, will retire and although Eastridge Family Medicine will continue, the book will close on 55 years of medical care from the father and his son.
“The personal connection,” answered Bryant when asked the most satisfying thing about being a family doctor. “The long-term relationships. The direct connection to people and to their lives and to their health.”
With his retirement just a month away, Bryant sat down with a Gazette reporter to talk about his career, the rewards and challenges of family practice, and the challenges facing health care.
A native of Gastonia, the elder Bolin first practiced medicine in Mount Airy for about 10 years, even serving as the family doctor for native son Andy Griffith’s mom and dad.
In 1966, the opportunity opened to come to Gastonia and begin practice here — an opportunity he readily accepted.
“He was raised in Gastonia,” said Bryant. “All his family was here. It was a good move for him practice-wise, and it was a good place to bring up a family.”
Bryant grew up in the Gardner Park neighborhood in Gastonia. He attended Gardner Park Elementary, Grier Middle, and in 1974 was graduated from Ashbrook High.
So was following in his father’s footsteps as a family physician a future written in the stars?
“I had seen my dad’s work, and the joy he took from it,” Bryant replied. “But I was not an academician. I was much more interested in sports, especially football, than I was in work in the classroom.”
Accepted at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, Bryant concentrated more on playing football for Lou Holtz than he did on his studies. “But I soon learned,” he recalled, “that at 5 foot 8 and 160 pounds, I wasn’t going to the NFL.”
At one point that autumn, a Gazette reporter asked Bryant if the Gaston County Schools had prepared him for the academic rigor of college.
He still laughs at the memory of his reply.
“I said, ‘If I had bothered to do the work, I might have been prepared.'”
So when football season ended and as his second semester was about to begin, Bryant decided to shift gears.
“I said to myself, ‘Let’s find out if you can do the work.’ I took 21 hours, including four lab courses. I learned how to study. I proved to myself I could do it. And I decided to pursue a medical career pathway.”
After being graduated from N.C. State in 1978 with a pre-med bachelor’s degree in zoology, Bryant began his studies at Wake Forest University’s medical school.
At one point during his residency, Bryant considered specializing in pediatric medicine. His wife Linda, who died in 2019, gave him a bit of direction.
“She reminded me that if I stayed in family practice, I could still see kids as part of that practice,” he said, “but that if I went into pediatrics I would only be seeing kids. I stayed with family practice.”
After seven years of medical school, residency, and internship, Bryant came home to Gastonia, joining the practice of his father.
The father and son practiced medicine together for seven years. The elder Bolin died in 1994.
“Fifty-five years is a long time,” Bryant said. “That’s a lot of years to build trust. Establish those personal connections. And to treat several generations in a single family.”
Asked to reflect upon what it means to retire after so long a career, Bryant harkened back to a Gazette interview with Dr. C. Ellis Fisher at the time of his retirement several years ago.
“He said he was fortunate to practice in the Golden Age of Medicine,” Bryant said, “And he was absolutely right and I feel absolutely the same way. We really hit the sweet spot. We were blessed with the benefits of new technology but not yet cursed with all the encumbrances of contemporary business practices.”
The pandemic and beyond
Asked about how the medical community has responded to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bryant said health care has had to respond also to an “infodemic” — a flood of false and confusing information about vaccines and best practices.
“The medical community’s response has been remarkable,” he said, “But misinformation has polluted that response and gotten in the way of what we could have done.”
Bryant also added that he does not consider COVID-19 to be the biggest health crisis facing America.
That unfolding crisis, he said, stems from America’s insistence on eating far too much of the wrong kinds of food and getting far too little activity.
“What we’re facing is an epidemic of metabolic disease, vascular disease, and obesity,” he said, “an epidemic that has been going on far longer than COVID-19.”
So how will a retired family doctor stay busy when he removes the stethoscope from around his neck?
“I play a lot of tennis,” he said. “In fact, I’m certified to teach tennis. And, I’ve decided to take up golf. I’m really at opposite ends of the spectrum with the two. One, I’m teaching, the other, I’m learning.”
Family will also continue to be a focus of his life, he said.
Any parting messages for the community?
“None that I haven’t been preaching for the last 36 years,” he said.
Bill Poteat may be reached at 704-869-1855 or [email protected]