In Memoriam: George B. Whatley, M.D

Dr. George Barry Whatley, 88, Foundation Lifetime Member, died Aug. 12, 2009, at his home in Birmingham, Ala. He was born in 1921. He had recently had a stroke. He was famed for his daily tennis games, which he recently had to discontinue.

“I was raised in poverty,” he recalled, in a speech he gave at Lake Hypatia to the Alabama Freethought Association (AFA), an FFRF chapter.

In 1929, he and his 13-month-old brother and his mother contracted pneumonia and were taken to a Catholic charity hospital in Mobile. His mother died there a few days before his ninth birthday.

His parents, he feels sure, were both nonbelievers. But after his mother’s death, he was often in the custody of religious institutions. Whatley, the oldest of four boys and the “responsible one,” called the Children’s Aid Society for help, because of his father’s alcoholism. The brothers were separated and placed in various boarding homes and orphanages. His orphanage sent him to Sunday school with the wards of the juvenile court system. He became an avid bible reader, which convinced him that it all was “a bunch of junk.”

After high school, he went to Birmingham Southern College, studying pre-medicine. He borrowed $400 and took a job for 26 cents an hour at a delicatessen. That supported him in his first two years of college, along with one or the other of his younger brothers, who lived with him in the dorm. He managed to get a better job working in a chemical lab during the last two years.

In 1944, Whatley was drafted, entered the U.S. Navy and was assigned to operate radar on a ship which went to the Navy amphibian base near San Diego. After his discharge in 1947, he returned to Alabama to finish medical school at Birmingham. This was followed by a mixed surgical internship, then a year of general practice residency at Conway Memorial Hospital in Mon­roe, La.

He returned to Birmingham to practice at a clinic, then opened his own practice in Homewood, where he worked from 1955 through 1985.

When asked once what prompted him to aspire to become a doctor, George recalled a teacher advising him that he “had the ability to become whatever I wanted to be in life.”

Whatley, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Willa, traveled extensively to places such as Russia, China, South America, Greece, northern Africa and Nepal.

In 1971, he and several other doctors founded Brookwood Hospital in Birmingham. The hospital was very successful and was sold to American Medical International 10 years later. He retired in 1985.
“When I retired, I was making house calls for $10,” he said. “What a contrast” to today’s complex, profit-driven healthcare delivery system.

In 1997, he and his wife founded the Dr. George B. and Willa Mae Whatley Charitable Foundation. After over 55 years of marriage, his wife died in 1998. Later, he spread her ashes at Lake Hypatia, the headquarters of the AFA, where the main auditorium is named in her honor.

“Dr. Whatley was of infinite help both to FFRF and its Alabama chapter, the Alabama Freethought Association, and the rationalist world will miss him,” said Foundation Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor.

Freedom From Religion Foundation