Friday, July 17, 2015

Dedicated doctor, sax player merges music, medicine to help Hardin, Montana, enterprises




Dr. Robert Whiting tells of his journey from medical school to family doctoring in Montana, always with music.
Robert Whiting, MD, above in vintage
doctor garb at the  Big Horn County
museum, and right, with a newborn
he delivered earlier in his long career..  
and courtesy Bob Whiting

FOR A HALF-CENTURY plus, Dr. Robert Whiting Jr. has served the community of Hardin, Montana, as a small-town doctor with a big reach.
Although his e-mail handle is "retdoc" -- for retired doctor -- he's hardly retired from an active life and keeps his medical certifications up to date.
Everyone in a 100-mile radius knows Whiting, and many of those have also been tended by him -- operated on, counseled, diagnosed, helped -- in a career that began in 1953 when he enrolled in medical school. (He graduated from the well known Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.)

Bob Whiting in obstetrical service at Jefferson
Davis Hospital, establishing an early interest
in childcare and babies. 

Bob Whiting plays tenor sax
at a recent fundraiser.
RECENTLY, the energetic Texas born community booster helped organize a group of area regional music teachers and members of the Billings Community Band to perform an homage to band man Glenn Miller, who became famous in the swing era before and during World War II.
"It's all about giving back," said Whiting, chatting at their home after the concert with fellow musicians and community boosters.
The Robert and Marlene Whiting family at a recent celebration.
Downstairs, while this reporter played the family piano, Whiting did a doctorly "post-mortem" on the concert, a Chamber of Commerce fundraiser at Hardin Middle School.  It featured Glenn Miller's signature "Moonlight Serenade” and “Little Brown Jug”, “In the Mood,” “That Old Black Magic” and other hits from a bygone era. "I think we finally got a swinging sound," he said, as heads nodded/ (An afternoon rehearsal helped immensely.)
I played piano on stage with the band, tying in a reading from my novel, "Lilian's Last Dance" at the lovely Big Horn County Historical Museum, to be featured next blog. blog.
WHITING and his wife, Marlene, are going strong in their 80s and married since 1957. They came to Hardin, though, by chance on an airplane ride after a summer's work at Yellowstone Park.
Doctor by day for many years, Bob Whiting has played guitar, clarinet
and saxophones for decades, from high school to medical school and beyond.
The private craft, piloted by a friend, was touring Montana, looking for a place that might be a good match for Whiting, recently out of medical school and in love with Montana from a 1949 visit.
Low on gas, the plane touched down and the passengers went for coffee and told the waitress they were looking for a home and place to practice medicine.
"Turns out, the community was losing its doctor and badly needed someone," Whiting recalls. "Before we had our second cup, the community leaders and shakers descended upon the restaurant to plead their case for me to stay."
Bob Whiting takes a bow
after the recent concert. 
THE REST, as the cliche goes, is history.
Whiting's book, "From the Bedside to the HMO: A Doctor's Journey," details the demands of doctoring -- from birthing babies to checking ladies of the evening for disease, to polio ward sorrows and everything in between. Whiting worked with cardiovascular surgeon superstar Dr. Michael DeBakey, tended emergency room traumas and comforted survivors of illness and accidents.  He removed various bizarre objects from bodily orifices and rescued more than one drowning swimmer.
"I believe in the importance of balance," says Whiting. "Hardin has provided us with a rich, interesting life." He talks about the need for "a fix" in his book.  Apparently, both music and medicine provide him with that feeling of satisfied accomplishment.
IN OR OUT of the operating room, Whiting enjoys being "center stage" -- and his music is keeping him going.
Marlene jokes that they planned to stay in Hardin "a couple years" and the couple has logged decades now, all time spent making beautiful music together.

Vintage furniture and transportation are part of the fun at the beautifully
designed Bighorn County Historical Museum, our next blog feature.

COMING UP: Hardin, Montana's museum is an eyeful -- more than two dozen buildings and a gorgeous visitor's center lovingly built by the community, with  plenty of donated funds and imagination. Ambitious museum director Diana Scheidt credits generous donors who gave a vintage pipe organ, century-old automobile and much more. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us Wednesdays and weekends at:
where we promise a lively look at travel and the arts, the natural world and road tripping.


  1. I know the doctor and he is a champion of a man --on the medical "stage" or playing his woodwinds. Nicely done tribute to a real character!

  2. What fun to read about a man who is both dedicated to his profession and the care of peoples' health, and to having fun for a good cause! Bravo, doc.

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