Dr. Hugh David Verner died March 24, 2015, at Deerfield Retirement Center. He was born April 20, 1919, in Florence, S.C., to Dr. Carl Hugh Verner and Flora Garner Verner. He grew up in Forest City, N.C., and graduated from Cool Springs High School, where he played baseball, football and basketball. He earned a B.S. in chemistry from Davidson College in 1940. At Davidson, he played baseball, hitting a home run in his first at-bat as a freshman.
He graduated from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1943 and took post-graduate training at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, at Case Western Reserve University Medical School in Cleveland and at Carolinas Medical Center. While in Cleveland, he was sent to check on an ill student nurse named Margaret “Danny” Oberdorfer; they married July 22, 1945. They had been happily married almost 63 years when she died in 2008. During World War II, he was a captain in the U.S. Army Medical Corps.
After his discharge in 1947, the Verners moved to Charlotte, where he co-founded the medical practice that became Mecklenburg Medical Group with Dr. James M. Alexander. A beloved doctor to his patients and a leader in the Charlotte medical community, he was president of the Mecklenburg County Medical Society, the Charlotte Chapter of the Society of Internal Medicine and the Medical Staff at Carolinas Medical Center. He was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and a Fellow of the American College of Physicians.
He was also a clinical assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine. Dr. Verner believed that everyone should have access to quality medical care. In 1954, he made the motion to integrate the county Medical Society, which allowed black doctors to practice at Carolinas Medical Center. He was the founding director of the Neighborhood Medical Clinic, which served low-income inner-city residents.
He chaired the Mecklenburg Medical Society Task Force on Improving Access to Health Care for the Uninsured and Underinsured. Dr. Verner was president of the Mecklenburg Unit of the American Cancer Society and served on the boards of directors for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Florence Crittendon Home, Charlotte/Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee, Charlotte Family and Children’s Services, and Thoms Community Care Foundation in Asheville.
He was a ruling elder at Myers Park Presbyterian Church, moderator of the Mecklenburg Presbytery and a commissioner to the General Assembly that reunited the north and south branches of the Presbyterian Church. He was a Myers Park Little League coach for 10 years.
Devoted to the colleges that he loved, he was founding president of The Johns Hopkins Alumni Chapter of North Carolina and served on Hopkins’s National Resources Committee. He served multiple terms on the Davidson College Board of Trustees and was president of its National Alumni Association. He was a longtime trustee and board chairman for Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa. A lab and a scholarship there are named for the Verners.
After he retired from medical practice in 1991, he and Danny moved to Montreat, N.C. Shortly after arriving, they attended a “Leadership Swannanoa Valley” program. During one session, an elementary school principal talked about issues that hindered local children’s ability to learn: poverty, family dysfunction and other unmet needs. Danny led the effort – along with Hugh and several others who had heard the presentation – to found the Swannanoa Valley Voice for Children. The SVVC developed plans for a program that included high-quality child care, family services, teacher education and health services.
Early cost estimates were sobering. More than once, they were told what they wanted to do was impossible. Led by the Verners, however, the organization raised $3.6 million, enough to pay for construction of the building and underwrite the first year of operation. The Mountain Area Child and Family Center opened in 2001 on the Warren Wilson College campus and now has three sites and a home-based program. It was renamed Verner Center for Early Learning in 2014.
Dr. Verner was honored with the Davidson College Alumni Service Medal, the Charlotte Community Health Association Silver Anniversary Distinguished Service Award and the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award. The Verners were named Western North Carolina’s Outstanding Volunteer Fundraisers of 1998 by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives’s Western N.C. Chapter. Athletic throughout his life, Hugh was an avid golfer and tennis player and a fan of virtually all sports, especially baseball and Davidson basketball, which he instilled in his sons. He loved nature and built an impressive wildflower garden on his property in Montreat.
He spent many hours sitting on the “high spot,” often with a grandchild beside him, enjoying the natural beauty surrounding him. His sons and grandsons have fond memories of listening to his “Hey Diddle Dumpling” stories and warming their feet by one of his expertly built fires.
Hugh was loved dearly by his and Danny’s extended families and by a wide circle of friends of all ages, who will miss his kindness, generosity, intellect, humor and love and the example he set of how to live a good life. His advice for us would be the same as he gave his young sons whenever they needed a boost: “Confidence, chin up, smile on your face!”
Left to cherish his memory are three sons and daughters-in-law, David C. and Sallie Caudill Verner of Durham, Scott C. and Pat Miller Verner of Concord, and Jonathan K. and Leslie Latta Verner of Asheville; and six grandsons and granddaughters-in-law, Sam Verner of Durham, Andy Verner of Concord, Ben and Erica Smith Verner of Charlotte, Ryan and Charity Huffman Verner of Charleston, S.C., Jeffrey Verner of Boone, and Matt Verner of Chapel Hill. Hugh said his “fourth son” was Dr. Ashok “Kookie” Kapoor, whom he and Danny befriended when Kapoor attended Davidson College in 1960, launching a decades-long friendship. Hugh’s younger brother, Scott Verner, died in 1950.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Friday, April 10, at Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church in Swannanoa. The family will receive friends after the service in the church fellowship hall. According to his wishes, he will be cremated; the scattering of ashes will be private.
The family asks that memorial gifts be made to Verner Center, 2586 Riceville Road, Asheville, NC 28805 or Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church, P.O. Box 9000, Asheville, NC 28815.
Published in Charlotte Observer on Mar. 29, 2015