When you think of the city of Bullard, there is one name that stands out as the most recognizable because of her impact as a doctor, humanitarian, and lifelong Bullard resident.
Marjorie Roper, the woman known as the town doctor for Bullard for many years and as the “First Lady of Bullard” recently celebrated her 96th birthday.
Bullard Banner News conducted an exclusive interview with Roper last week on her 96th birthday at her home in Bullard, the same house she was born in almost a century ago. During the interview Roper shared her thoughts about her birthday, life in Bullard, and lasting impact on the Bullard community.
“I’m so thankful,” said Roper, when asked about turning 96 years old. “I didn’t know that I could do it this long, but I’m going to keep doing the best I can because I love this place. The good Lord has helped me last this long. I don’t know why He has because I had my stuff all packed up two years ago, and it’s still packed up, but he hasn’t called me home yet. I guess we both have to be ready for that. I love it here in Bullard; this is my home, and when I have to go, I’ll take it right here.”
Roper, a lifelong Bullard resident, was born June 7, 1921, to the late Hattie and Oran (O.L) Ferrell, owners of the O.L. Ferrell Drug Store, inside the Ferrell home, located at 213 W. Emma St. in Bullard.
In talking about her childhood, and current, homestead, Roper said there’s been a few changes made over the years.
“Where I sleep now, my brother and I were born there, and even my mother was born there,” said Roper. “I’ve also had several family members die in there. The house is different now, but it has just been a part of my life throughout.”
As a child, Roper attended Bullard Elementary School and Bullard High School, graduating as the valedictorian of the Class of 1937, just shy of her 16th birthday.
After graduating from BHS, Roper attended Tyler Junior College and studied pre-medicine. Roper graduated from TJC in June 1939, ranked as the third highest graduate in her class.
“I was a country kid,” said Roper, recalling her childhood years. “When I went to Tyler for college, they all knew I was country. There were two boys who were ahead of me, and they told me if I wasn’t a girl, they would’ve put me as the [highest graduate] at TJC.”
Enrolling at the University of Texas at Austin in August 1939, Roper was selected for early medical school acceptance after only one year of additional pre-medicine studies. Roper then attended the University of Texas Medical Branch, located in Galveston, beginning in August 1940, one of three female students in the program. She graduated from UTMB in July 1943 with her M.D. degree.
After medical school, Roper was accepted for an internship at Parkland Hospital in Dallas lasting from August 1943 to June 1944. Later, she began as a pediatric resident at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.
Although she left to pursue higher education, Roper returned home to her native Bullard to marry her high school sweetheart, Leonard Bauman Roper, Aug. 25, 1944, inside the First Baptist Church of Bullard.
Roper received one of her most favorite birthday gifts on her 24th birthday, when she gave birth to her first child, Daniel Leonard Roper, born June 7, 1945.
“Even though I left Bullard, I didn’t forget Bullard was home,” said Roper. “The people just love each other and we’re just simple country people. Bullard was just a little bitty town way back then. I wouldn’t have imagined Bullard growing as big as it has today; when I was growing up, I knew everybody in Bullard mostly from school because we only had one school building. Now that Bullard is bigger, it’s harder to keep up with folks.”
With her medical training and education intact, Roper’s career in the medical field began in July 1945 as an associate at Andres-Cook Pediatric Practice in Longview, kicking off a medical career that would cover over 60 years of providing medical care to patients spanning from Civil War veterans to children in the 21st century.
Roper also worked inside the child health division of Texas State Department of Health in Austin, primarily supervising midwife training, as well as the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Biloxi, Miss. During that time, Roper’s husband, flying Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Bombers out of England in World War II, had been assigned following recall to active duty with the United States Air Corps.
On Memorial Day 1947, Roper returned back to Bullard and opened her practice in the back of her father’s drug store, a space once occupied by her childhood idol, Dr. Claude Rather. Back then, Roper saw patients of all backgrounds, even those who were unable to pay for her medical services with money, instead reimbursing Roper with fresh fruits and vegetables, other food, and even once, a parcel of land near Lake Palestine.
During her time as the only practicing physician for Bullard, as well as other East Texas cities such as Frankston, Troup, and Whitehouse, Roper brought three of her own children into the world: Thomas Luther Roper, born Sept. 4, 1949; Harriett Elizabeth Roper (Page), born Dec. 2, 1951; and Richard Cleveland Roper, born Sept. 5, 1954.
In 1968, Roper accepted a part-time position at the Rusk State Hospital, while continuing to maintain her private medical practice in Bullard. Roper retired from the part-time position at the Rusk State Hospital in 1987.
“When I went to work down in Rusk, I was going to work down there for just a few weeks, but I ended up staying for years,” said Roper. “I was just going to do some physicals there because they were understaffed. Some of the patients had not been examined properly when I got there. When I went behind the fence, I couldn’t stand it because they weren’t getting the care they needed, but I think they’re getting the right kind of care now.”
Roper added a valuable asset to her private medical practice in Bullard when her daughter-in-law, Linda, an Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner, joined her staff in 2000 as a primary care giver.
In October 2006, Roper announced her formal retirement from full-time medical practice after 59 years of serving Bullard and the surrounding communities. In the same year, Roper was named the first director of Bullard United Methodist Church’s Christus House Clinic. The clinic was renamed in Roper’s honor in 2009.
Even though she was retired, Roper continued to remain active, opening the Bullard Historical Museum inside her father’s old drug store building. At the museum, patrons can learn about the history of Bullard through several donated pieces of memorabilia from Bullard High School, the City of Bullard, and many more.
According to the Bullard History Museum’s website, www.bullardhistory.net, the museum opened November 3, 2012, on Bullard's Red White and Blue Day. The museum displays local memorabilia and collections of Roper, including the old pharmacy, doctor's office, and soda fountain. Other sections included in the Bullard History Museum cataloguing over 130 years of Bullard’s history are school, military, church, business, dolls, farm, and music.
“I think the museum is a great place,” said Roper. “We’re not able to open it a lot because most of my help died, but we open it by appointment now. The museum really tells the story of the city of Bullard well. The drugstore part of the building still has the original flooring it came with. A lot of people don’t even know the museum is there, but it’s a real treasure. There’s a lot of stuff in there that I just couldn’t throw it all away.”
Throughout her 94 years of life, Roper has received several distinguished awards, including the 1963 Texas Baptist Mother of the Year award; TJC’s Distinguished Graduate Award in 1999; receiving the Key to Old Parkland from Parkland Hospital in 2009; and the Community Builder Award by the Masonic Grand Lodge of Texas in 2015.
The City of Bullard also paid honor to Roper and her contributions to the city by renaming a section of Hwy. 69 in Bullard as Doctor M. Roper Pkwy. in 2014, with approximately 100 members of the Bullard community attending the event, signifying the impact Roper has made on the Bullard community.
“I’m blessed to call Bullard home,” said Roper. “I’m just thankful to have been here this long. My secret is just trusting God and loving others. If I could give advice to Bullard people, I want them to love God, love each other, and do what’s right. Looking back now, I’ve had some close encounters, but I’ve made it through. I really believe that when you get older, the good Lord watches out for you.”
One of Roper’s caretaker, Marcia Ramirez summed up the impact Roper has had on her life in just three short years, calling Roper a treasure for the Bullard community.
“Dr. Roper is just indescribable,” said Ramirez. “She’s a great lady with a great sense of humor that many people may not notice. She’s a rare gem of a person with everything she’s done in her life, and I’m blessed to be able to work with her.”