Allyn Cleon Johnson still uses the same doctor's bag that he took to house calls more than 50 years ago.
Johnson, 83, first came to Gainesville in the 1956 and still practices medicine at Northeast Georgia Medical Center's Lanier Park campus on White Sulphur Road today. Though many practices have changed in the world of medicine, Johnson still keeps a few of his old habits, including writing patient charts by hand.
"When I came to Gainesville, I was doctor 19. Now there are well over 500," said Johnson, who specializes in cardiology and internal medicine. "There have been changes in every way in medicine, certainly in the way that it is practiced. There was no big brother looking over your shoulder or insurance companies or any other person besides you and the patient."
Studying medicine was never a question.
"I was always going into medicine. I became interested in high school and started pre-med studies at North Georgia (College & State University). After four quarters, I went into the Navy and then came back and went to medical school," he said. "I was always in medicine, there was no question about that. I just naturally went into internal medicine and cardiology."
When Johnson first started helping heart problems in Gainesville, there was limited knowledge about the field.
"There was very little actual cardiological treatment when I came here," he said. "Now there are so many different things, invasive and not invasive, that can be done with the heart." Johnson, who goes by his middle name Cleon, now focuses more on general practice and passes cardiology cases to his son, David Johnson, who founded Gainesville Heart Group in 1994. It's recognized as the first full-time and full-service cardiology practice in Gainesville. He and his partners played an integral part in bringing the Open Heart Surgery program to Gainesville in 2002.
David went to the Medical College of Georgia with Jack Chapman, a doctor at Gainesville Eye Associates who also treats Cleon Johnson's eyes.
"I know Dr. Johnson both professionally and personally, and I've always been impressed by the way he continues to care for his patients to this day and time," he said. "I've been taking care of his eyes for a number of years, and it's been a pleasure to do that and know him."
Chapman works with another of Johnson's sons, James Elliott, who does cataract surgeries with Accusite Surgical Services, a mobile medical service based in Gainesville that travels around the Southeast. He first became interested in medicine in middle school and worked in internal medicine in Colorado for 12 years before coming back to Gainesville to work around family.
"Dad has to be one of the oldest still-practicing physicians in Gainesville," he said. "He's one of the old-school cardiologists. Basically he was performing cardiology before they had things like open heart surgery. He told me that when he went to MCG, he did some of the first research on hypertension done in the nation. Truthfully, that man has forgotten more medicine than 90 percent of doctors will ever know. He is one intelligent individual."
One of Elliott's favorite memories from childhood is riding in his dad's airplane.
"Flying was his other passion. He used to fly us around Gainesville," he said. "He taught me what hard work is all about. He would get up early in the morning and wouldn't come home until 7 or 8 p.m. because he loves what he does. He absolutely lights up when he goes to his office."
Johnson's daughter, Mimi Johnson, also remembers her father's passion for medicine and flying. Although she originally pursued a degree in psychology, she later went to medical school and now works in sports medicine in Seattle.
"He was very busy. Now, most positions don't take care of their patients in the hospital also, but in his day they all took care of their patients there," she said. "He has always done that up until just recently when we talked him into stopping hospital practices so he wouldn't be so tired with more work and longer nights."
Mimi remembers her father making house calls and serving nights in the emergency room.
"Sometimes he was late to a school performance, and it wasn't unusual for him to get a call while we were opening Christmas presents, but we built up a lot of patience and understanding," she said. "We always had family dinners together, even if it was around 9 p.m., and I still feel really strong about having family dinners. I see that in my own practice as I work with athletes who have eating disorders when they have those regular dinners missing from their lives."
Johnson also had a love for music. He played the piano and the trumpet, sang and even drew. Although Mimi jokes the artistic genes weren't passed to her, the talents went to her brother Allyn Johnson, who works in landscape architecture in Georgia.
"Dad was very giving. I remember he did a lot of bartering with patients who couldn't pay. They would give him vegetables," she said. "I remember a journalist who visited Gainesville from South Africa while apartheid was still in place. This man had gall bladder problems for years, but they would never do surgery because he was black. Dad was able to treat him for free, and the man came over and spent Christmas with us a couple of weeks later."
Though he's slowing down, Cleon Johnson doesn't see any retirement in his future.
"I don't think the Lord says anything about retirement, and I have no intentions of retiring any point soon," he said. "I don't do the extent of medicine that I used to, but I enjoy seeing people do better, and that's what continues to spur me on. I still have patients who first started off with me two or three weeks after I came to Gainesville. We have a good relationship, and I get pleasure and satisfaction from serving them in every way I can."