Rock Hill orthopaedic surgeon remembered as compassionate man who loved the skies

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 8, 2014 

Dr. Robert Mabry Scoville, a longtime orthopedic surgeon in Rock Hill, was an avid outdoorsman who enjoying fly fishing, skiing, tennis and long-distance cycling.

But it was being in a small plane about 5,000 feet above the earth that Scoville loved most.

“We made some absolutely amazing journeys together,” David Griffin said of his friendship with Scoville. While traveling in the small plane, Griffin and Scoville discussed everything from orthopedic surgery to their mutual love for flying.

Their trips included following the trail blazed by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark up the Missouri River and a cross-country flight from Charleston to San Diego, Calif., with a stop at the Grand Canyon.

“When you’re in a small airplane for many, many hours, you cover a wide array of subjects,” Griffin said Saturday on his way to his longtime friend’s memorial service. “I will miss him.”

Robert Scoville died at Carolinas Medical Center on Tuesday after suffering from pneumonia, his family said. He was 75.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Charlie Scoville, and their three daughters, Elizabeth Crippen, Lydia Darby and Ann Morrison, and four grandchildren.

On Saturday, he was memorialized at Rock Hill’s Episcopal Church of Our Saviour where he was a member.

On Jan. 18, Robert and Charlie Scoville celebrated 50 years together. Their family planned to throw them an anniversary celebration this weekend. Still, “we did get to that milestone,” Charlie Scoville said Saturday.

That makes her glad.

“The time we had together was really quality time when he was with the family,” she said. “It always quality time.”

Quality time included frequent trips to a home the couple owned on Edisto Island.

Charlie Scoville first met her beau while teaching school in Charleston. At the time, Robert was going to medical school.

Mutual friends introduced them. The doctor’s sense of humor and fun, his strict “moral code” and the compassion he shared for his patients is what hooked Charlie. They married at her childhood church in Darlington County.

Born in Barnwell, Scoville graduated from The Citadel in 1960 and the Medical University of South Carolina four years later. He spent a year at the University of Virginia before joining the U.S. Air Force as a flight medical officer. The Scovilles moved to Rock Hill in 1971 after Scoville finished his orthopedic residency. He worked at the Rock Hill Orthopaedic Clinic, where he practiced until his retirement for health reasons in 2000.

After the move to Rock Hill, Robert Scoville met Dr. William Hull.

“We had somewhat similar experiences,” Hull said. “Both of us were physicians in Vietnam and while we were there, (both) our fathers died and we had to come home and face that.”

Over the years, the Hull and Scoville families grew close. Hull said his son told him on Saturday that he felt he lost his “second father.”

“He was a lot of fun to be around,” Hull said. “He wasn’t a goody two-shoes, and he loved to kid you too. I told his wife I think she and I were the two people he picked on the most.”

His compassion went beyond the operating room.

“He really cared for his patients and gave them the time he thought they needed,” Hull said. “He’d pop in on a Saturday morning or Sunday afternoon. He was just a very caring person and very sincere person.”

In his retirement he found a kindred spirit in David Griffin. They took their first flight together 10 years ago. Many more would follow.

One year, Robert Scoville and Griffin decided to “follow Lewis and Clark” to the Missouri River. Along the way, they landed in several towns and were met with “incredible hospitality” and consistent curiosity, Griffin said. Locals often asked where they came from, Griffin said, and what brought them to South Dakota or Montana or whatever state they were in at the time.

“We’d say we’re looking for a couple of guys,” Griffin said. “Who?” would be the next question. “Lewis and Clark,” they would answer.

The reaction they typically received “was absolutely priceless,” Griffin said. Some even said: “Well, you’re 100 years too late.”

Scoville and Griffin’s most recent trip was a six-day flight to San Diego, Calif. from Charleston to deliver an airplane to a friend. Robert Scoville had never visited the Grand Canyon, so they stopped in Arizona.

“We spent a day there and had a good look around,” Griffin said. “We flew across the deserts; we bypassed a sandstorm in west Texas. It was one of the most memorable trips, if not the most memorable trip, of my life.”

Flying is not the only thing Griffin remembers about his friend: “Robert had a very strong allegiance to our country’s military.”

While in the Air Force, Scoville was stationed at the Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam. On weekends, he would take a helicopter to a leper colony and treat those suffering from the disease, Griffin said.

Scoville was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service and the Air Medal.

“He made some amazing sacrifices,” Griffin said. “That was the kind of man he was...just an extraordinary human being who made a contribution to mankind like no man I’ve ever met.”

Jonathan McFadden •  803-329-4082

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