Louis pens her parents’ history

Published 11:32 am Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Martha Pennington Louis became compelled to record her parents’ history after the birth of her first grandson, Oliver.

She decided to preserve her family’s history for her grandchild.

Martha Louis

Louis recently published the history of her parents, Drs. Margaret and Bill Pennington, in a story titled, “Dr. Bill and Dr. Margaret: A Love Story.” The work was published through Farmville Printing.

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Louis is no stranger to preserving history. She is president of Historic Buckingham, Inc., which maintains and preserves historic sites around the county.

First and foremost, Louis said she would describe her parents story as a love story.

Louis writes in the book that the lives of her parents differed from their own, that “‘life was harder but many times sweeter,’” and that their experiences and hardships enabled them to serve patients for decades in Buckingham County.

Her mother, Margaret, was born in Ashland, Kentucky. Margaret, Louis said in the book, that they moved several times because of her father’s work at C&O Railroad. The family eventually settled in Richmond.

Margaret, a talented artist, was accepted into the Chicago Art Institute and the Johns Hopkins Medical Illustrating School. Due to the looming Great Depression, Margaret was encouraged to stay in Richmond and instead attended the Medical College of Virginia (MCV), which later became Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU).

It was at MCV that Margaret met her soon to be husband, Louis writes.

Bill was born in Newport News and his father also worked at C&O Railroad as a blacksmith. Bill would visit Lunenburg County in the summers to help his grandfather working in tobacco fields.

When he was a teenager, Bill’s father was hit and killed by a motorist when heading home from work, Louis cites in the book.

Bill, the firstborn, worked several jobs after school to help take care of his family.

Louis said Bill had always wanted to become a doctor. After attending the College of William & Mary, he started a medical degree from MCV, where he met Margaret.

Louis says in the book that Bill had heard there was a student whose medical drawings rivaled his own. He decided to investigate, and ended up meeting his future wife.

“I guess it was love at first sight,” Louis writes in the book, “because he talked her into enrolling in the medical school.”

In 1932, Margaret and Bill got married and were the first married couple to graduate together as doctors from MCV, Louis said in the book.

Bill later went on to serve as a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corp in Europe during World War II. Louis said in the book he rarely spoke about his service, as he had experienced the trauma of treating young soldiers seriously or fatally injured.

When Bill returned from his service, Margaret suggested the family move back to Virginia, after having moved to West Virginia following medical school. She thought it would be therapeutic for Bill to practice medicine while also being able to farm and hunt in a peaceful environment, Louis writes.

They moved with their two children at the time to Buckingham County, where they practiced medicine across from the county courthouse.

Louis is the youngest of four in the family, and was born in 1949.

It was after decades of practicing medicine in Buckingham County that the two retired in 1984, Louis writes. Margaret died in 1989, and Bill died in 1993.

Louis said the numerous photos used in the book, showing her parents as children, teenagers and adults, were among boxes and boxes of photos she received from her parents.

She said the writing and editing process was made easier by Jon Marken of Farmville Printing. Louis said she and Marken were able to do the majority of the editing remotely, “with the wonder of email.”

She said the process has shown how important it can be to record history from past generations, particularly for loved ones. She encouraged others with a similar passion to preserve family history to start the process sooner rather than later.

“If you want to record your family history and there are older members of your family still living, sit and talk to them and record their stories,” Louis said. “Do it today.”

She said family members have been supportive and excited to read the story, and that she received calls from former patients and their families describing Margaret and Bill’s impact on their lives.

“I hope that the readers of this little book, whether family, friends, patients of theirs, will come away with a sense of who (they) were,” Louis said. “I get emails and calls from lots of their patients or family of patients who loved the book because of the caring my parents showed their family members. That means a lot.”