I don’t really remember ever not knowing Robby. He was a couple years ahead of me in school, and in a place like Ozark that means you know each other; have a strong likelihood of crossing paths most days when school is in session. We also went to church together for a time at First Baptist. His family owned a local pharmacy and his dad, Bob, was everyone’s favorite guy. He worked long hours, seemed always to be there when you needed him. He ran Medi-Quik with a gentle spirit, keen mind, and kind heart. When I grew up and had babies, Bob told me my prescription vitamins were free at Wal-mart so I should get them there. I wept with the family when Bob unexpectedly died. Robby made his dad and all of us proud by stepping up and into his shoes as Medi-Quik’s new owner. He’s carried on Bob’s tradition of devoted, compassionate care.

I do remember not knowing Kelli personally. I always knew who she was, since her dad was my dentist. He had pictures of her and her sister Kim displayed proudly all over his office. Kim is the same age as my younger brother and they were friends. Even though Kelli is six years younger than me she was on my radar as a teen because she dated my best friend’s brother, who was also my brother’s best friend, Mark, now her husband. We all moved back home after college and graduate school and started hanging out and Kelli and I got close. Until recently, when she started working in the ER, Kelli was our family doctor, overseeing the collective health of most of the community. She is still known to take my calls in the dead of night or most recently when she was on vacation and I hated to bother her but was concerned about my mom, who turned out to have a kidney stone. And so it goes in the beautiful thing that is small town Arkansas.

Kelli with her dad Jim

Robby with his dad Bob


We are giving away our most valuable resource: trust in each other. Click To Tweet

I’m politically homeless, an Independent who ran for office as a conservative Democrat; Kelli leans Libertarian, and Robby has been a strong supporter of former president Trump. We are all Christians who love our families, community, state, and America. Over the years conversations with both of them have stretched and challenged me. Kept me balanced, like friends do. I think they’d say the same of me and my freethinking ways. Underlying any political ideas we have is something far more important: trust in one another. We all have a commitment to the well-being of our people. A sense we all nurture—that we are in this together, and that anything that threatens to divide us is dangerous. HPRD. Hillbilly pride runs deep. We know that even if we sometimes disagree on little stuff, we are strongest when we stand together.

 

Robby worked countless hours getting shots into the arms of our people… It was as if he was obsessed, trying to save as many people as possible before the virus could get to them

 

In November I was devastated by “friends” who told me they could not vote for me—even though they said they knew and loved me—because I ran as a Democrat. It has taken months of work forgiving, healing, extending and receiving grace, and the sheer discipline of acceptance to begin to move on. This past month I’ve felt angsty about all of that again. But as the Delta variant of Covid consumes Arkansas, and some of those same people assert their rights not to be vaccinated or wear masks, it’s not for myself that I’m so disappointed. It’s for my friends who have given their lives to the health and well-being of people in our community, and the apparent lack of respect such a sacrifice commands.

Kelli today


Back in February, Robby was interviewed by the Democrat Gazette because of his contribution to Franklin County’s early high vaccination rate. Along with my friends Johnny and Janelle Larsen, CA Kuykendall, Lacey Hewitt, and Kim Gibbons (Kelli’s sister), Robby worked countless hours getting shots into the arms of our people. I knew of trips he made to other parts of the state to pick up unused vaccines, and house calls he made to elderly shut-ins out in the country. It was as if he was obsessed, trying to save as many people as possible before the virus could get to them. Friends in other counties would tell me about their parents being on waiting lists because their pharmacies didn’t provide the vaccine as fast as here. Hillbilly pride ran deep as I saw my parents and anyone else who wanted the vaccine served as expediently as possible. Our pharmacists did it right, and our county became a model for others to follow.We know that even if we sometimes disagree on little stuff, we are strongest when we stand together. Click To Tweet

Likewise, I watched Dr. Kelli nearly lose her own health stretching resources, desperately trying to care for our sick people. One of Ozark High School’s few National Merit Finalists and one of the most gifted people ever to graduate from medical school, she chose to join her beloved mentor Dr. Wilson, and do her life’s work here—among us rural folks—keeping us healthy. Just yesterday she posted this plea on Facebook: 

In my 17 years working as a physician I have never seen anything like this. Patients from Arkansas are being transferred as far away as Denver CO because that is the closest available hospital bed. This is insane guys. It doesn’t just affect Covid patients. It’s ALL patients. ERs are bursting at the seams. We are doing our very best to keep people alive. Please be kind to your friends in healthcare. We are so very tired. Please do everything in your power to protect yourself. Get a vaccine. Wear a mask. Avoid crowds… This is just not sustainable.

People Robby, Kelli, and I all love believe misinformation about the vaccine and refuse to get it, even spreading conspiracy theories themselves. I can accept someone not following my medical advice. I’m no medical expert. But consider the logic of those who otherwise put their health into the hands of our local doctors and pharmacists: treatment for cancer, depression, diabetes, major and minor infections, flu, even physical examinations for our children in sports. When we need help we turn to Kelli, and then we go to Robby for the medicine she prescribes. He lets us call him after hours, orders special things we need, tirelessly explains how things work, makes home deliveries. And yet. When these and other home town health care professionals beg us to take the Covid vaccine—to save our lives and the lives of others—some of us choose an article we read on the internet, a stranger on youtube, or even a family member or spiritual advisor with no expertise, over those who have proven themselves to us. Over doctors, pharmacists, nurses, and others who have earned our trust through years of study, living here among us, working hard, and dedicating their lives to serve us.

Robby today

I can understand being independent. I can understand being stubborn. I can understand thinking for ourselves, trusting God, and putting little to no confidence in government. I am and do all of those things. But what I cannot understand, and never will, is the pervasive disrespect for people who have done the work to earn our respect; the blatant distrust of those who deserve our trust because they have proven themselves to be trustworthy. I have worried about the division in our country before. But this—this severing of the ties that bind us in our small communities—that’s something deeper. Something worse. We are selling ourselves out; casting our pearls before swine; trading our greatest strength for weakness. The saddest part is that no one takes it from us. We are giving away our own most valuable resource: trust in each other. For this, for all of us, I grieve.