Bulldog Beacon | JHS Class of ’55 Grad Knows Infectious Disease, Epidemics and Self-Learning

By BOB PALMER, Jimp News Editor
& AUSTIN FARMER, JHS Campus Editor

Austin Blackburn
Practicing social distancing due to the COVID-19 crisis, JHS Campus Editor Austin Farmer interviews Dr. James Blackburn last week in Otstott Park.

JEFFERSON – James Blackburn, M.D., a retired surgeon, will tell you that you can’t let a little thing like the COVID-19 pandemic keep you from learning.

A 1955 JHS graduate, Dr. Blackburn faced disease and classroom challenges growing up in Jefferson, much like today’s students must confront.

“I liked to learn about everything,” Dr. Blackburn said in a recent interview with the Bulldog Beacon.

That quest for learning helped him overcome obstacles along his life’s way.

“I got whooping cough when I was in the fifth grade,” Dr. Blackburn remembered. “I had to stay out of class for about six weeks. When I went back we had a six-weeks test.”

The teacher gave him her notes to study before the test.

“The notes were in outline form,” he said. “I studied those notes and passed the test.”

Dr. Blackburn became a fan of the outline form for notes through high school, college and medical school.

During his time in Jefferson schools, the high school, junior high and elementary building were all on the block now called Lion’s Park.

In high school, Dr. Blackburn had to teach himself much of a critical class.

“The principal called me to his office and told me and some of the other students they thought might go to college to not expect much help in our Algebra I class,” he recalled.

The school’s football coach taught the class.

“We were told if we wanted to learn algebra to listen to the first five minutes of the class,” Dr. Blackburn chuckled. “Then the coach would go into a huddle with the football team. I played football, but I was a tackle. All I had to do was push the guy in front of me one way or the other.”

elite tax
Dr. Blackburn learned a valuable lesson in algebra many JHS students are picking up on today.

“You learn to do it yourself,” he said. 

During study hall, he read all the issues of “Reader’s Digest” in the school library.

As a boy, he had impetigo and experienced first hand the steps necessary to make sure the disease did not spread to other members of the family with the nation’s penicillin supply sent to the front lines of World War II. 

Dr. Blackburn also saw San Antonio locked down to fight a polio epidemic in 1946 when he and his father had to shelter in a hotel while their car was repaired.

Dr. Blackburn does value the education he received from JHS. He sailed through chemistry at The University of Texas at Austin, he believes, because of the lessons he received from Mrs. Eva Brent, a UT Austin graduate herself.

In dealing with COVID-19, he practices what he preaches – social distancing, few trips, no visitors, frequent hand washing and having ample supplies of food and medicine.

For someone who graduated from JHS 65 years ago, Dr. Blackburn sounds like he would fit in today.

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