Dr. Candace Koney

In just one week (March 30), the Matthew Walker Comprehensive Health Center will celebrate the annual Matthew Walker, Sr. Legacy Breakfast. As the day approaches, Dr. Candace Koney, a granddaughter of Dr. Matthew Walker,  Sr., took time to reflect on her fond memories and the history of the man who founded the center 55 years ago.  A reflection on Matthew Walker, Sr., MD, FACS, FIC, MD, MHA

“Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin (As Much Truth As One Can Bear, New York Times).

By Dr. Candace Koney

In 1906, the year Matthew Walker was born, North Louisiana was an outdoorsman’s paradise. The soil was fertile, and white-tail deer were plentiful. The soil that grew crops like beans, corn, rice and cotton was tilled and turned over by its inhabitants. Among the inhabitants were freed men and women of color – more specifically, African American people.

In Waterproof, Louisiana my family were farmers. At that time, young Matthew Walker was raised in a loving large circle of family who some 40 years before were working the land for free. Matthew’s great grandfather was at one time an enslaved man.

Our family survived that brutal institution, but slavery was not the beginning – it was an important historical marker in all of our lives. Through flooding, yellow fever and other public health crises, our family in that geographic region endured.

Eventually, Matthew’s parents took him to New Orleans. It was there that they sought out better economic conditions and better educational opportunities for their bright young son. My ancestors were able to change the bleak circumstances in which they found themselves. They were able to love and nurture one another past unspeakable horrors. Matthew returned to Waterproof, the place of his birth, throughout his life. That was the place that molded him. From that foundation, he was able to develop a vision of a world that he wanted to see.

By 1975, Dr. Walker’s impact was being felt in Middle Tennessee. I remember being around my grandparents as a young girl. Everyone was rushing around getting last-minute instructions from Granny, Alice Walker (wife of Dr. Matthew Walker, Sr.), the consummate hostess. “Daniel Phillip, did you set up all the tables for cards in the basement?” she asked her last born son. “Children, did you clear the closets and get more hangers for all the coats?” she asked with urgency.

Ding dong, ding dong: the first guest arrived. Grandpa greeted his friend with a hearty laugh and a firm handshake. “Come on in! Brandy, Randy, Candy, come here.” When all five of the grandchildren were in town together, we were referred to by three names. Calling the three names meant that all five of us were being called. We were proudly introduced to all of Granny and Grandpa’s friends and colleagues.

But mostly Brandford Jr., Randy, Matt the 3rd, Candace and Nicole were summoned at these parties to act as the unofficial coat check service.

I remember one event when there was a seemingly never-ending streaming in of guests. The driveway was large by design, and could hold at least 50 cars, and the line of cars also went down the street. The guests included local businessmen and professionals. The men were beautifully cloaked, and the women were resplendent in lovely gowns. Once both closets in the foyer were filled to the brim with coats, we were instructed to carry more coats to the back room.

I remember being amazed that my grandparents seemed to know so many people. Their hospitality was legendary on a local basis. Alice and Matthew loved their community. This was evidenced by the care and attention they showed to their guests and by their nearly daily performance of community service acts.

Likewise, Grandpa adored his family, and he made time for his grandchildren in other ways. He wanted us to share his love for the outdoors. I remember one occasion where he took us to a fish farm in Nashville. We were the only kids there, which was also special. With our lines in the water, the fish seemingly jumped on to our hooks. The grandchildren felt that they were accomplished at fishing after that experience. I have loved fishing ever since that day.

Matthew Walker, Sr., MD, an accomplished surgeon and professor, could remove himself from his many accolades to relate to his grandchildren. As a young girl, he once praised me for something that I had done. He said “Candy, you’re a smart little girl,” and he beamed when he said it.

I reflect on that and the way he looked at me when he said it and my heart is warmed. 

That was the builder Matthew Walker, MD, FACS, FICS, MHA. Just like the family in Waterproof, who were there to build him up years before. Matthew was able to share that skill of crafting a productive citizen and pour that into a young child – and the medical resident as well.