Remembering Dr. Richard Ballew: A legacy of service to TB control and public health

Photo above: Dr. Richard “Dick” Ballew (seated) served our agency and state for almost 50 years making a dramatic difference in the treatment and control of tuberculosis.

By Jim Beasley

Few people exemplify the traits of service and dedication as well as DHEC tuberculosis consultant Dr. Richard “Dick” Ballew.

Dr. Ballew died May 16 following a lengthy illness, leaving a notable legacy in the wake of nearly 50 years of service with DHEC.

After receiving his medical doctorate degree from the University of Tennessee, he served with the U.S. Public Health Service in South Carolina from 1958 until 1960, focusing his efforts on the treatment and control of sexually transmitted diseases. After an eight-year stint at an Alabama private practice, Dr. Ballew returned to South Carolina in 1968 as a DHEC clinical physician and medical director.

He then turned his eyes toward the agency’s efforts to fight tuberculosis in 1970 by holding TB clinics at the Lexington County Health Department. At the time, South Carolina experienced more than 600 cases of TB disease annually, placing a significant medical burden on the agency and state.

His interest in the disease grew, leading him to assume a full-time position as chief medical consultant to DHEC’s Division of Tuberculosis Control in 1990. Dr. Ballew oversaw diagnosis and treatment of an extraordinary number of TB cases as he conducted TB clinics in 37 of the state’s 46 counties. Through his work with the agency’s TB team, the incidence of the disease dropped to approximately 100 per year by his full retirement last year. TB control specialists around the country took note of these accomplishments, as did members of DHEC’s TB Control staff.

Dr. Ballew possessed wisdom from his years of experience, and he was always willing to share it with others through training clinics and consultations.

“He became the ‘go-to’ consultant for suspect TB cases and, of course, for proven TB cases as well,” said Dr. Eric Brenner, formerly of DHEC and now with the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health. “Aside from being a clinician par-excellence, Dr. Ballew was also a wonderful teacher, serving as instructor in TB courses for nurses and clinicians from around the state.

“During his 35 years in the TB program,” continued Dr. Brenner, “the state reported approximately 6,700 cases of this infectious illness, and a conservative estimate is that Dr. Ballew was personally responsible for the medical treatment of over a third of them.”

His dedication to battling disease could only be topped by his love for Nancy, his wife of 56 years.

“He loved his wife and family,” said Debra Ray, BSN, MPH, who worked alongside Dr. Ballew for almost 23 years in DHEC’s TB program. “He always referred to Mrs. Ballew as his ‘bride.'”

Dr. and Mrs. Ballew Dec 2015

Dr. Ballew accepts an award at his DHEC retirement party in December 2015.

Dr. Ballew retired from DHEC in 2000, the first time, leaving his full-time position as TB consultant with the agency. He would continue as a part-time consultant until eventually retiring, for a second time, in December 2015. His health would not allow him to reach his goal of 50 years with the agency. TB staff from across the state gathered in Columbia to honor the man who began serving this agency before many of them had been born.

“Dr. Ballew has worked extensively to eliminate TB disease, making South Carolina a healthier place,” said Basley Carlisle, director of DHEC’s Division of Tuberculosis Control. “Dr. Ballew will truly be missed.”

Very true. He will be missed by many.

“He was not only a compassionate, dedicated physician,” Ray said, “but also a wonderful friend.”

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