Asbury Celebrates Service of Dr. Phyllis Corbitt

WILMORE, Ky. — When Dr. Phyllis Davidson ’46 Corbitt stood to address the crowd that gathered at Asbury University Tuesday to celebrate her retirement from an extraordinary medical career, she was only yards away from where it began more than 60 years ago.

As a freshman at Asbury, she had her heart set on becoming a missionary, not a doctor. God had other plans, however, and over the course of a few weeks, her resistance faded. Finally, she stood in what was then the library (now the Student Center) and surrendered.

Dr. Phyllis Davidson '46 Corbitt was honored at a retirement reception at Asbury.
Dr. Phyllis Davidson '46 Corbitt was honored at a retirement reception at Asbury.

“It came to me that I was not my own; I was bought at a price,” she said. “I said, ‘If you can make me a doctor, I’ll do it.’ And it has been a wonderful journey.”

It has also been an unusually long, faithful and, in some ways, pioneering journey. She and her husband, Dr. Duvon Corbitt, Jr. ’48, were the first married couple at Vanderbilt’s medical school, and she was the only woman in her class. After their training was complete, they traveled to the Belgian Congo as medical missionaries, where they managed a 200-bed hospital in Kapanga. Eventually, however, the mission board determined that the area was unsafe for Phyllis and their children, and she found herself in Wilmore again, hoping against hope to be able to return to her beloved Africa.

For a town in which Phyllis never intended to stay, Wilmore proved to be remarkably fertile soil for deep roots to grow. She opened her own practice to keep her skills sharp while her husband continued to shepherd a young medical school in Africa. She also served as Asbury’s campus doctor from 1974-98. As a doctor and mentor to many, her hallmarks have been an emphasis on prayer, an uncanny ability to remember previous conversations and a willingness to meet others’ needs at any hour of the day. Though she was not able to return to Africa, in some ways the mission field came to her as she treated patients from around the world who had come to the University and Asbury Theological Seminary to study. Last month she retired from active practice though, given her open invitation to the gathering at Asbury to call her anytime, one may suspect her daily life of ministry and service may not change very much at all.

“It’s a great encouragement to know that God calls us to His places and His purposes, and Dr. Corbitt is a great role model of answering that call,” said Asbury University President Sandra Gray. “I am thankful for her faithfulness in letting the light of Jesus shine through her.”

Tributes

“Dr. Corbitt has come many times to our house at night. My wife is diabetic, and there have been times when I’ve called her up and said, ‘I need some help.’ She always says, ‘I’m on the way,’ and won’t even let me pick her up — because that would be too much trouble. She’s that kind of lady. If any town has ever had a hero, saint or legend, it’s her.”

— Harold Rainwater, faculty member at Asbury and mayor of Wilmore

“Dr. Corbitt is a person with few peers. She’s a legend on campus. Thousands of students have come through, and she kept them well. From her missionary background, she was knowledgeable about a lot of different diseases other doctors weren’t as familiar with.”

— Dr. Charlie Fiskeaux, vice president for business affairs and treasurer

“She is such a faithful servant of the Lord. Her ministry as a family physician has been a tremendous blessing. When you’re cooking, you add spices to enhance the flavor of the food; Dr. Corbitt enhances our community.”

— Dale Dragomir, pastor of Wilmore Christian Church

“Dr. Corbitt is still serving the whole world through her ministry to the many nations that have passed through Wilmore. I will go and do likewise because of the example she gave our family.”

— Eugene Kim, alumnus of Asbury Theological Seminary

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