Community mourns, remembers near-century life and legacy of “First Lady of Bullard”

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Members of the Bullard community gathered together last week to celebrate the legacy of a lifelong resident who has been synonymous with the city’s history for nearly a century.

Dr. Marjorie Roper, known as the “First Lady of Bullard” and also had a longstanding career as the town’s medical physician for decades, passed away at her home during the afternoon of Wednesday, Jan. 3. She was 96 years old.

“Our little city is growing but remains grounded in the value of its history,” said Bullard Mayor Pam Frederick. “Dr. Roper’s role in the history of Bullard is caretaker, leader, and friend to all. She is considered by those that know her story to be the “First Lady of Bullard”, although she would never have allowed us to call her that in her presence. Her humble spirit gave credit to the Lord for all good things, and she never wanted to be praised for the things she accomplished. Each time we spoke, she shared with me her wish for all of the people of Bullard to be proud of our little city, to build each other up, and to work together for the good of Bullard. Dr. Margie left a legacy that won’t soon be matched; she was a special, precious person.”

Born June 7, 1921, to the late Hattie and Oran (O.L) Ferrell, owners of the O.L. Ferrell Drug Store, inside the Ferrell family home, 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.

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.

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.

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 First 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.

The museum opened November 3, 2012, on Bullard’s Red White and Blue Day, and now 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.

Throughout her 96 years of life, Roper 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 made on the Bullard community.

Roper was also inducted into the Bullard ISD Wall of Honor in its inaugural Class of 2010, along with her brother, Dr. O.L. “Buddy” Ferrell, and her eldest son, “Dr. Daniel “Dan” Roper. The school district also inducted her husband, Leonard Roper, in the Class of 2012.

Roper’s impact on the Bullard community as a doctor, humanitarian, and lifelong resident was celebrated during her funeral services by a capacity crowd filled with family and friends on Saturday, Jan. 6, at First United Methodist Church of Bullard, with Rev. David Brasher officiating. Burial followed the service at Bullard Cemetery.

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