For the last 75 years, visiting the family doctor for many in Barrow County more than likely meant visiting Dr. Garey (Butch) Huff, Sr., his son, Dr. Garey (BJ) Huff, Jr., Dr. Huff, Jr.’s, wife, Dr. Audrey Huff and if you’re old enough, Dr. Edwin Etheridge – three generations of family physicians who operate with the motto: “Our family caring for your family.”
“We focus on caring for the family unit. We like to see babies all the way up to elderly folks,” said Dr. Huff, Sr.
Dr. Edwin Etheridge started the family practice on the second floor of the Sharpton Opera House in downtown Winder in 1947.
Dr. Etheridge was born and raised in Carl, Georgia, and went to the University of Georgia. Before starting the family practice, Dr. Etheridge made house calls, as many doctors did during that time. He and his wife, Louise, who he met in college and who also graduated from UGA, would drive around the county seeing patients for everything from the common cold to delivering babies.
“The stories are really the old-timey country doctor that you hear about and that’s what he did,” said Dr. Huff, Sr., of his father-in-law.
Dr. Etheridge originally wanted his practice in Carl and built his house with intentions of practicing out of it. However, at that time, a phone call from Winder, Statham or Auburn was considered long-distance and he knew most of his patients would be coming from those areas, so he elected not to practice at his Carl home and gave it to his parents, where they lived until they passed away.
Instead of a home practice, Dr. Etheridge rented office space in downtown Winder, across Broad Street from the Barrow County Historic Courthouse.
A true pioneer of his time, Dr. Etheridge then decided to be proactive and designed and built the first freestanding medical office in the county in 1952, which was highly touted in the press for its modern accommodations.
“He’s really the architect of this whole process,” Dr. Huff, Sr. said of his father-in-law.
The office you see today, which was built in 1979, stands next door to that original building on West Candler Street. That same year, Dr. Huff, Sr., joined his father-in-law at the practice after marrying Dr. Etheridge’s daughter, Molly, who he met at the Medical College of Georgia and who also worked off-and-on as a nurse at the family practice.
“I practiced with my wife, my mother-in-law and my father-in-law,” said Dr. Huff, Sr. “They were all part of this. This is a whole tradition.”
Dr. Huff, Sr., was only able to work alongside his father-in-law for about one year before he passed away in 1980. After Dr. Etheridge passed, Dr. Huff, Sr., practiced alone except for his wife Molly and mother-in-law Louise, who worked until a few months before her death in 2013 at age 80.
But the true family practice didn’t end with Drs. Etheridge and Huff, Sr.
The next generation of doctors, Dr. Huff, Jr., and his wife, Dr. Audrey Huff, joined the practice in 2005. Like the generations before them, Dr. Huff, Jr., and Dr. Audrey Huff also met while studying at the Medical College of Georgia.
“We have only ever known one another where we work together,” said Dr. Huff, Jr. “I can’t imagine working without her.”
Dr. Huff, Sr., served as somewhat of a mentor to his son and daughter-in-law when they joined the practice.
“He taught me how to be a family physician and take care of the patient and the family unit in a community,” said Dr. Audrey Huff. “That was a different experience for me.”
That was a lesson that Dr. Huff, Sr., wanted to make sure he bestowed on those following in his footsteps, so he knew the practice and community would always be in good hands.
“After a while, you talk about the patient, not necessarily the patient and his health problems, but as a person that you know through the community. You begin to know the person as an individual,” said Dr. Huff, Sr., of practicing in a close-knit community.
But as time goes by, change is always eminent, even for the steadfast Huff family.
A major change over recent years was in 2014 when the practice joined Northeast Georgia Physicians Group. According to the Huffs, that change was one of the best decisions they could’ve made, especially in helping them stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As part of the team at Northeast Georgia Health System, the practice is relocating at the end of the year to NGHS’ new Medical Plaza, which is currently under construction in Bethlehem. This move, on top of adding a nurse practitioner for the first time in the practice’s history – Nazifa Cultarevic was hired to work at the practice in February – will continue to improve access to care for patients in the area.
Looking to the future, Dr. Huff, Jr., and Dr. Audrey Huff said their son, Thomas, who is a senior at Winder-Barrow High School, has recently expressed interest in following in their footsteps and studying to become a doctor at the University of Georgia.
Perhaps the biggest change in the 75-year-old family practice, however, will take place on Sunday, March 19, when Dr. Huff, Sr., retires after a 50-year career.
“If I had to do my career over, I would start over and do it just like I did it. This is my 50th year and I would do it again for 50 years and love every minute of it,” he said.
“I’ve never thought of it as work. It’s what I do.”
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