University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Harry Rowe '36 MD '43

Doctor's in the house

Dr. Harry Rowe
photo by Shayne Lynn ’93

Departments / Alumni Profiles

Doctor’s in the house

HARRY ROWE '36 MD '43   It’s a wintry morning in Wells River, Vermont, the kind of day when most people in the middle of their tenth decade would be forgiven for staying indoors wrapped in an old sweater. But Harry Rowe ’36 MD’43, has been up and about for hours. With his necktie firmly knotted, he’s been out the door of his house on Main Street for his daily trip to the post office to pick up the mail for the Wells River Clinic, then back to the clinic, which is attached to his house. The physical link of clinic and home is telling, for if anyone in Wells River can be said to have lived a life connected to the needs of his community, it would be Dr. Harry Rowe. Across sixty years, this town is where Rowe and his wife Mary (Whitney) Rowe ’36, who passed away in 2002, raised six children and served their neighbors.

“I grew up working,” Rowe says. “In our household, we were expected to work, whether it was around the field or leading a horse or cultivator.” Born October 10, 1912, in the Northeast Kingdom town of Peacham, Rowe was the eighth child of nine born to parents who farmed and ran a general store in nearby Barnet.

Boyhood farm work brought Rowe to his first interaction with medicine. At age nine, he and his sister Polly were leading two horses back to the barn. One spooked and reared, kicking Harry soundly in the head. “I went flying right over the fence,” he recalls. “And my sister made her way around the horses and back to the house and told them I was dead! When they first saw me, I believe they agreed with her diagnosis.” Rowe was still very much alive, but he spent nine days in the hospital recovering, and to this day has a small piece of skullbone missing. “The doctor told me he had to remove about a teaspoonful of brain when he closed me up,” says Rowe. “It never affected me much—I just speak a bit lightly, and I can’t whistle.”

Though that first encounter with medicine was as a patient, Harry Rowe was long determined to be a doctor. “I was interested in studying medicine,” he says, “but I wasn’t sure I could do it.” After high school graduation, he delayed entering UVM so he could work on the farm and help his family during the Depression. Between his undergrad years and medical school, Rowe was a teacher and principal in Vermont schools. By 1940, he’d saved enough for medical school. Doctors were educated on a fast track as World War II loomed, and in just a few years Rowe would graduate and ship out for Europe as commander of an Army medical unit.

During the war, Harry and Mary wrote to each other and imagined their future together. In 1946, they settled in Wells River and began that life they had dreamed. Dr. Rowe would go on to practice full-time at the clinic for fifty years, attending to the health care needs of generations of patients on both sides of the Connecticut River. It’s a corner of New England where many share a particular bond with this country doctor; some 1,200 babies came into the world with a helping hand from Dr. Harry Rowe.

—Edward Neuert

A longer version of this profile originally appeared in Vermont Medicine in Spring 2008.

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