When I get behind the wheel, I like to put on a little driving music. No matter the destination, I find a good soundtrack helps the miles roll by a bit more quickly.
And lately, I’ve had quite a few chances to learn new tunes.
In August 2023, we launched our 77 for 77 campaign. In honor of OMRF’s 77th birthday, we’re traveling to all 77 counties in Oklahoma over the next year. The idea is to thank all those who’ve supported us through the years and forge new bonds with folks who may not know about OMRF.
As of the week after Thanksgiving, which is when I’m writing this, we’ve made it to more than 20 counties. I’ll share much more about my experiences in a future issue of Findings, but even though we have scores of communities yet to come, it’s already been gratifying and tremendously fun to make so many connections and to learn about the ways OMRF has touched lives across the state.
Along the way, my wife, Amy, has been putting together an Oklahoma playlist. When we headed to Beckham County, she added “Wichita Lineman” and a few other Jimmy Webb songs. And because Roger Miller also grew up there, she included “King of the Road.” (I mean, how could she not?)
But the melodies go beyond our van’s stereo.
In Guymon, Dr. Martin Bautista was kind enough to host us, and he helped gather a big crowd of supporters and people interested in learning more about OMRF. We weren’t surprised that Dr. Bautista is such a community influencer, as he’s a talented and well-known gastroenterologist. What did surprise us was that he’s also an America’s-Got-Talent-worthy singer, and he showed it by opening the evening with a bang-up performance of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Ol’ Blue Eyes would’ve been proud.
Still, my favorite musical moment came from Dr. Earl Mabry. We met Dr. Mabry in Enid, where he established his dental practice on the heels of World War II.
Dr. Mabry had served as a dentist in the U.S. Navy, and he’d also go on to do so in stints with the Army and Air Force. Between military assignments, he cared for patients in northwestern Oklahoma and raised a family that would grow to include nine children.
You’d think this would have been more than enough to fill his days and nights. But Dr. Mabry didn’t feel life was complete without music.
Growing up in Altus, he played the saxophone and clarinet in a traveling orchestra that took shape in, of all places, a local barbershop. They performed jazz and big-band pieces throughout the western part of the state, booking for “whoever wanted a 10-piece orchestra,” he says. The money “wasn’t great,” but for a high-school kid, “it was more than working at an ice cream shop.”
When he settled in Enid, Dr. Mabry met several other medical professionals who also played instruments. They began getting together to practice jazz standards in one physician’s basement, and when word got out in the medical community, the “Doctors’ Band” started booking gigs.
As dentists and physicians, they were accustomed to getting paid for their services, and this was no different, says Dr. Mabry. “The first time someone invited us to play for them, we gave them a price and took their money.” However, each time the band got paid, they donated it all to OMRF.
Dr. Mabry doesn’t recall why, exactly, he and his bandmates chose OMRF as their charitable beneficiary. But his son, Dr. James Mabry (like his dad, an Enid dentist), believes it stemmed from OMRF’s founding campaign: In the late 1940s, health professionals around the state raised funds to build a new medical research foundation.
The ensemble stayed together for more than half a decade, then disbanded around the time the elder Dr. Mabry was called back into military service. After he returned home, he channeled all of his musical energy into the organ, an instrument he played into his 80s.
Dr. Mabry turns 104 this January. During our visit, I learned that in all this time, he’s never been to OMRF. So, of course, I invited him, along with his wife, Carol, and his son. I wanted this jazz-loving donor and his family to see the place the Doctors’ Band had helped create.
When they accepted, it was music to my ears.
Read more from the Winter/Spring 2024 issue of Findings