Dr. B.J. (Bobby Jack) Estes, an institution in Abilene’s medical community for more than a half century, completed his life’s journey Wednesday, September 9, 2020 with his wife Lale by his side. This remarkable man touched countless lives – as a caregiver and community leader – and he leaves a legacy and example that will endure and inspire for generations to come.
Visitation will be held on September 18, 2020 from 5-7 pm at The Hamil Family Funeral Home, 6449 Buffalo Gap Road, Abilene, TX 79606. Safe practices regarding social distancing and masks will be required. Due to COVID-19, the memorial service will be family only.
Estes, 89, a native of Abilene, was delivered by his grandfather at the West Texas Baptist Sanitarium – which later became Hendrick Medical Center -- on July 10, 1931. Dr. J.M Estes, Sr., the consummate country doctor who made his rounds in a horse drawn carriage, inspired his grandson to become a doctor himself. B.J Estes, the son of Dr. Bob and Lucille Estes, grew up enjoying scouting and all kinds of sports. He graduated from Abilene High School in 1948 after he anchored the school’s relay team to a 3rd place finish at the state track meet. He was 5’4” and 117 pounds – small but mighty!
Estes left home to attend Vanderbilt University at the age of 17, where he was President of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity and earned a BA degree in 1952. In 1953, he married his amazing life partner, Lale “Skip” Murrey from Franklin, Tennessee. The newlyweds moved to Houston where Estes earned an MD degree from Baylor College of Medicine in 1956. After an internship at Jefferson Davis Hospital in Houston, the couple and their newborn son Frank moved to Abilene in 1957 where Estes joined the general medicine practice of his uncle Dr. Jack Estes.
Dr. B.J., as he was commonly called, became Abilene’s first board-certified family practice physician in 1960. Designated a new specialty by the American Medical Association, a stringent testing process was required of those willing to apply. Estes, who was a Charter Diplomate for the new specialty, was named a lifetime member of the American Academy of Family Physicians in 2000.
Dr. B.J. was certainly a highly skilled physician but what really set him apart was how he practiced medicine. He treated the whole person – ailments and injuries as well as wounded spirits and broken hearts. He committed to his patients’ well-being for a lifetime. After a very full day at the office and several rounds at the hospital – to see current patients and those who were now under the care of other specialists – he would make house calls on his way home. He was tireless and devoted. He ended every visit by asking, “Is there anything you need?” And he asked because he genuinely meant it. He was willing to do anything for anybody.
Generations of families were patients of Dr. B.J. He was part of their lives during the best and worst of times. He brought babies into the world and then stood vigil at the bedsides of the elderly when the end was near. He was not just a doctor but a trusted, treasured resource – and most often a beloved friend. He always led with his heart which was way bigger than he was, and it was brimming over with love for his fellow man. A man of faith, Dr. B.J. lived every day – in every way – the Biblical principles he studied and believed.
No one was ever turned away from services because of inability to pay. He delivered so many indigent babies that there was an endowment made in his name to Hendrick Medical Center in 1987, establishing a program to provide pre-natal and obstetrical care to mothers without resources. On his afternoon off, he held a clinic at Ortiz Elementary School and treated all comers – young and old – with equipment and medicine he supplied himself. No one ever went without care if Dr. B.J. knew about the need. He welcomed them at his office, went to their homes, saw them at the hospital. If someone needed help, Dr. B.J. was there. Making money was never the motivating factor in his practice of medicine. First and foremost, he loved his patients and their families.
During his time as president and board member for the Hendrick Medical Center Foundation, Dr. B.J. was instrumental in significant additions. He helped establish a cardiovascular fitness and training unit as well as a family practice residency program where he served as clinical director from 1982-1988. During this same period, he was a clinical assistant professor of family practice at Southwestern Medical School. He was committed to improving the quality of Abilene health care, in terms of services offered, but also looking to the future, in training and attracting new providers. And his sterling example surely inspired young doctors to see that their role could – and should -- be so much more than just skilled, knowledgeable practitioners.
He also shared his talents with the community. He served as team doctor for AHS and McMurry College, gave lectures and financial support to the Teen Mom Program sponsored by the West Texas Girls Scouts and was chairman of the Community Foundation of Abilene’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. He was president of the Parents League, a lifetime PTA member, president of the Abilene Dixie Little League, board member for MHMR and served as associate medical director for Hendrick Hospice Care. Dr. B.J. was a longtime elder for First Central Presbyterian Church and a faithful participant in Bible Study Fellowship for 20 years.
He served as president of the Taylor-Jones-Haskell County Medical Society and in 1997 he received the Gold-Headed Cane Award, its highest recognition, for “Outstanding Service to His Fellow Man through the Arts and Sciences of Medicine.” This award, from his peers, meant the world to him. He was named Family Physician of the Year in 1988 by the Texas Academy of Physicians and received national recognition the same year. He was awarded the Golden Deeds Award in 1996 by the Abilene Exchange Club and Breakfast Exchange Club for his “exceptional record of meeting community needs”.
In 1991, the Texas Senate presented Dr. B.J. with a flag that had flown over the capitol and a resolution that read in part “ The State of Texas honors this worthy man for his medical achievements and the great depth of his compassion for the less fortunate, the indigent and the elderly, regardless of race. He has offered his services without concern for compensation. He is a throwback to the country doctor who ministers medically and spiritually to hurting people in his community. His life is one of service and we praise this quiet, unassuming, everyday hero.”
Dr. B.J. was in a solo practice until 1994 when he joined Abilene Diagnostic Clinic. He retired in 2008. But retirement, for him, meant serving as Medical Director, Wound Care HBO at Hendrick Medical Center until 2014.
Beyond his devotion to profession and generosity to community, Dr. B.J enjoyed his family and many interests. He was a runner for many years and competed in 19 marathons, including four Boston Marathons. He logged countless miles with his running buddies Tommy Morris, Dick Henry, Dr. Jim Duff, and the late J. Don Bowen. When his joints could not take any more of the running, he took up long distance bike riding and walking with his friend and pastor Cliff Stewart and the late Bill Carroll. He loved to work in his yard on Elmwood Drive and planted a huge vegetable garden in spring and summer that produced copious amounts of beautiful produce for friends, family and office staff. He also grew gorgeous roses and shared those as well.
He was an avid outdoorsman who loved to backpack, canoe, kayak and scuba dive. And he loved to bring the family along for the fun. He enjoyed time at his Cisco lake house, hunting dove in the fall, fishing for crappie in the spring and watching Darrell Royal’s Longhorns play on Saturdays. He played golf for the fellowship and time outside, he enjoyed traveling with friends who always made the journey even better than the destination and, he ultimately loved Lale’s cats even more than she did. Called “Da” by his children and later “GrandDa” by his grandchildren, he never quit trying to become a better dancer for his beloved “Skip”, filmed every one of Frank’s sporting events, wrote a homesick Janet every day of her freshman year at Baylor, and proudly served as Kenneth’s best man at his wedding.
It would take most mortals several lifetimes to do all that Dr. B.J. accomplished in his 89 years. He was a man of perpetual energy and determination. And he had the perfect partner to make all this possible. Lale supported and encouraged all his endeavors. Her strengths – and there are many – helped him to scale the heights he did.
When he retired from family practice in 2008, there had been an Estes family physician in Abilene practicing for 100 consecutive years, beginning with his grandfather, Dr. J. M. Estes, followed by his uncle, Dr. Jack Estes, and anchored by Dr. B.J. Now the last of that distinguished line is gone. This incredible man, while small in stature, towers over us all in deeds and contributions. We mourn his loss but are also grateful that we were blessed to share his journey. We have been in the company of greatness and are forever changed.
This humble, modest man shunned the spotlight and always gave the credit to others. At his retirement in 2008, he wrote a letter to his patients explaining his decision to retire. The letter’s opening cited Ecclesiastes: “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven. My time has come.” Now a new time has come. You have finished the race, good and faithful servant. Well done, well done. Thank you, dear Father, for the precious life of Dr. B.J. (Bobby Jack) Estes.
Survivors include his wife of 67 years Lale and their three children Frank (Bonnie); Janet (John) and Kenneth (Tammy); six grandchildren Baylor, Jaxon, Ben, Michael (Alexandria), Lyndsey (Mark), Kristal; and great-grandson Caleb. Other survivors include brother Tommy (Bobbie); sister Barbara (Win); many nieces, nephews and extended family. The Estes family would like to extend a very special thanks to Rachael Valfre and to the entire staff at Lyndale Memory Care and Hendrick Hospice Care for their compassion in his final months.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to First Central Presbyterian Church, 400 Orange Street, Abilene, TX 79601; Presbyterian Medical Care Mission, 1857 Pine Street, Abilene, TX 78601; and Hendrick Hospice Care, 1651 Pine Street, Abilene, TX 78601, or to the charity of your choosing.
Memories may be shared and condolences submitted online at www.HamilFamilyFuneralHome.com