The sign on the front door of the Great Falls medical clinic Friday said it was closed because of a clinic death.
Tiny Nonie Baker - Great Falls all her eight decades, sorrowful and carrying one of those clear hair bonnets that little old ladies always have at the ready in case of wet weather - was having none of that.
Baker pushed through the unlocked door like Patton through Libya. She was met and hugged by Joyce Wright, the nurse, whose eyes were red from a morning of mourning - from dozens of similar meetings with patients and the tears those meetings brought.
"All my life I knew him," said Baker. "He examined me Monday. I came in here Tuesday and he waved. I waved back. I can't believe he is gone.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
"All my life, all everybody's life - they knew him."
People pushed through that door all day, despite the sign that said Dr. Hollis P. Snead Jr. died Thursday evening at 83.
The man known as "H.P." to family and close friends, was called "Doc" by the rest of the town where, for most of the past 56 years, he was the only doctor in the town.
His whole life was dedicated to doctoring the people of this community.
The staff even played the opera music that Snead had played forever in the clinic. Music that came first from old albums played on a turntable, then CDs. Music to soothe people, to think by.
"Dr. Snead would have wanted us here today," said Wright. "Sixteen years, I was his nurse. I learned from him every day of those years, how to treat people. You treat them like family."
In Great Falls, Snead was family to all. He was the doctor to generations of the people in this town of about 2,000 people in southeastern Chester County that once was home to three thriving textile mills.
Snead even worked in one of those mills as a teen.
Then, Snead, valedictorian of the Great Falls High School class of 1944, put out his shingle in 1955 after a stretch in the Army. Coming back to visit his parents one time, he decided to stay and practice medicine in Great Falls.
He never left.
Snead first had an office in a long-gone, two-story house near downtown, across the street from the J.P. Stevens #1 Mill.
About 200 yards away sits the Great Falls Town Hall, where Town Clerk Julie Blackwell on Friday lowered the American flag to half-staff.
In the tiny park next door sits a granite marker, placed there in 2005 to honor Snead for 50 years of service.
"Looks like my tombstone," Snead loved to joke.
That day of honor, Oct. 1, became and always will be "Dr. H.P. Snead Day" in Great Falls.
"I feel like a family member has died," Blackwell said. "I went to his office the first time I can remember, right down the street there, probably 45 years ago. He was the same this week when he died. At the office, seeing the people. It never seemed like he could be gone.
"Doc Snead was always here for us. And now, just like that, he is gone."
At public places in little Great Falls on Friday, people called out to each other: "Doc Snead died. I can't believe it. Doc can't die."
James Dixon, tanking up his van with gas, shook his head as the people two cars over talked of Doc Snead, gone.
"Doc Snead has been my doctor my whole life," Dixon said. "He's been everybody's doctor."
Terry Sims, the nurse practitioner at the clinic who worked alongside Snead for the past several years, said the doc's easy-going manner, intelligence and experience made him the perfect family doctor.
"Dr. Snead taught me so much, teaching me from his heart and his 50-plus years of experience that you can't learn in a book," Sims said. "He was loved and he will be missed - terribly."
Dr. Laurens Fort, 70, a dentist, who alongside Snead, was the backbone of health care in Great Falls for more than four decades, described his friend's death as "a loss that no new doctor could ever replace."
In Great Falls, both men had the moniker "Doc." In small-town America, there is no higher praise than to be called "Doc" by the people you serve.
"Great Falls may have another doctor someday, but there will never be another Dr. Hollis Snead," Fort said. "He was a pillar of this community. A gentle gentleman. One of a kind."
Snead had cut back his schedule somewhat in recent years, but not by much. The people of Great Falls needed him, so he stayed at work.
The office door would creak open, and Snead would see patients. He saw them all.
Just like he did when he started - making house calls, accepting payment in cakes and chickens, or no payment at all. The people needed him.
Snead, the doctor, never once left them in the lurch. With his nurse wife of 50 years, Toni, in the office, Snead never left Great Falls even after the textile mills closed and the town took an economic beating.
"Dr. Snead was my family doctor growing up, and he was the inspiration for me to become a doctor," said Mike Nunnery, who now works in Lexington. "He did his work for so long, and so well. He helped people his whole life.
"He was a rare man in medicine these days."
Last spring, Chester Regional Medical Center considered closing Snead's clinic - which the hospital owns - because of financial considerations.
The people of Great Falls - well, they threw a fit. Petitions were signed, meetings held, fists waved. The clinic stayed open.
At a community meeting in May attended by about 300 people, when it was announced the clinic would stay open, Snead was given a standing ovation for all he had done.
Humble, he would accept no praise: "These people out here deserve what I can give them - my best. I will give it until I die."
And he did.
Snead's death resurrected worry throughout Great Falls on Friday: Would their beloved clinic remain open?
Dr. Sam Stone of Chester said Friday afternoon that after emergency meetings with hospital administrators, he and other Chester County doctors already had decided to divvy up Snead's workload and keep the clinic operating.
"Dr. Snead committed his whole life to his patients, the people of Great Falls," said Stone, whose late father also was an old-time country doctor in Chester County. "We all will pitch in. The people of Great Falls will have their clinic stay open because that is the legacy that Dr. Snead taught me. He taught all of us.
"Medicine is about people. It is my job to honor his lifetime of patient care."
Back at Snead's office, even news the clinic would remain open could not console many of his patients. They called and cried. They came in and cried.
"Dr. Snead was not a doctor to the people of Great Falls; he was a friend and part of the family in Great Falls," said Pattie Wishert, Snead's office manager the past 17 years.
Snead's nephew, JoJo Snead, came by, showing off all the places his uncle had stitched him up in a lifetime of the outdoors.
"And in 1960, he delivered me, too," JoJo Snead said. "Uncle H.P. was in my family, but all my life, I have seen what he did for people.
"And what he did was everything."
In Snead's Spartan office at the clinic, the shelves were lined with books such as "Fractures, Dislocations and Sprains," published in the Stone Age, no doubt. And newer medical stuff, as new as this month, printed out, because H.P. Snead used no computers, owned no cellular phone, wore no pager.
He was either at the office, at his house, or at his nearby river cabin hunting and fishing. All three numbers were in the phone book, for all to call. And they did call, day and night, for 56 years.
Also in that office in Great Falls is a composite - pictures of all the members the Medical University of South Carolina, class of 1950. On the bottom of the faces of those members who had died, Snead over the years put a yellow smiling-face sticker on each one.
There were many smiling yellow faces, as well as those still living, and Snead, too.
No one at that office was sure who would put up the yellow sticker on H.P. Snead's face. The staff cried just thinking about it.
Snead and his wife of 50 years, Toni, met at the Chester hospital all those years ago when he was a dashing young doctor and she a beauty of a nurse.
The Sneads have a daughter, Nori, who became a veterinarian. Their son, Hollis, is an engineer. They have three grandchildren.
But his family was so much larger, said Nori, his daughter, and Toni, his wife. Every man, woman and child in Great Falls was Dr. Snead's family. From every race, every nationality, every economic station.
All heard the opera music.
"He was asked so many times, 'Why don't you retire?'" Toni Snead said. "He told them all the same thing: 'Why retire when I am still doing the thing I always wanted to do?'"
Dr. Hollis Snead did not retire. He saw patients through Wednesday, and not long after, he was dead.
His office, just like he wanted, stayed open.
Opera floated through the air, the songs of the man in Great Falls whose door was always open - ready to heal the sick.