McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

Local News

November 26, 2012

Dr. Thurman Shuller, well-known physician, historian, remembered

McALESTER — Dr. Thurman Shuller, a well-known physician, historian and former military officer, has died at his home in McAlester.

A family member told the News-Capital that Shuller died Saturday following a sudden stroke on Thanksgiving.

Shuller had a 41-year career as a pediatrician in McAlester. He started at the McAlester Clinic, the brick building on south Third Street which recently housed the Pittsburg County Health Department before the health department moved to its current location.

He finished his pediatric career at the Warren Clinic in McAlester, retiring in 1989.

After Shuller retired, he became well-known as a historian. He was also a founder of the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society and helped research the names of the southeast Oklahoma coal miners who died in accidents whose names are engraved on the Coal Miners Memorial in Chadick Park.

Shuller also became known as an author, compiling histories related to McAlester and Pittsburg County, and publishing them in the form of books and articles.

Before either of those careers, though, he served during World War II as chief flight surgeon for the First Air Division of the 8th Air Force, in England, rising from first lieutenant to lieutenant colonel in only 28 months.

During his military career, Shuller was credited with having a 25-mission cap placed on the number of bombing missions flight crews had to run, giving them hope they might survive the war, as opposed to facing an endless number of bombing missions.

Dr. Shuller and his late wife, Joann Shuller, were married for 64 years and raised eight children.

In addition to his many other interests, Dr. Shuller served as the longtime piano player for the McAlester Rotary Club, before passing the torch to fellow Rotarian Gary Boyd.

He always credited the work ethic he learned growing up in Franklin County, Ark., as his greatest virtue.

Oklahoma Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Taylor knew Shuller well. Although they would become friends later in life, Taylor was only 5 years old when he first met Dr. Shuller, as one of Shuller’s many patients in the McAlester area.

“My first memory of Dr. Shuller was being in his office when I was a child,” Taylor said. Shuller served as Taylor’s pediatrician throughout the future chief justice’s childhood.

“He was a wonderful, caring physician,” Taylor said.

Taylor grew up to serve as a McAlester city councilor, McAlester mayor, associate district judge and District 18 district judge before his appointment to the Supreme Court. He and Dr. Shuller both attended what is now known as the First United Methodist Church, previously known as the Grand Avenue Methodist Church. That gave them plenty of opportunities to talk over the years.

“We used to have all kinds of discussions — mostly me listening and him talking,” Taylor said. Chief Justice Taylor said he liked it that way, because “I was learning about Oklahoma history.”

Taylor said he recently read an article Dr. Shuller had written for the Chronicles of Oklahoma, the magazine of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

“I wrote a letter and told him how good it was, and he called me,” Taylor said. That gave the Supreme Court justice and the physician-historian an opportunity for another conversation.

“He was a scholar of history, and also made some history, with his articles,” Taylor said, referring to Shuller’s status as an historian.

“He was a great scholar, a great physician and a great family man,” Taylor said, adding that Shuller will be missed.

David Beall, the current vice-president of the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society, said he had grown close to Dr. Shuller over the past few years.

He recalled how Dr. Shuller and Joanna Shuller worked to create the Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society.

“There was a genealogical course offered at the library,” Beall said. Following the course, the Shullers hosted a backyard picnic at their home with others who were interested in starting a permanent genealogical and historical society.

The Pittsburg County Genealogical and Historical Society had its beginnings based on that backyard meeting at the Shullers' home, he said.

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