Diversicare recognizes Dr. Joe Downs for 42 years of service

Published 9:00 am Saturday, April 1, 2023

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LANETT — On Wednesday afternoon, Diversicare of Lanett said thank you to Dr. Joseph Downs on having served as its medical director for almost 40 years. A retirement party was given in his honor in the activity room. In celebration of Dr. Downs’ connection to the University of Georgia, there was plenty of red and black in the room. All the tables had red tablecloths and there was a arch made of red and black balloons.

As the staff was making its final preparations for the big thank you party, they were made aware of the good doctor’s arrival. They heard his familiar laugh as he was talking to some Diversicare friends as he was walking down the hall to the room.

The nursing home was known as Golden Living of Lanett when Downs began making regular visits to the residents in the early 1980s. A native of West Point, Downs attended UGA as an undergraduate in the 1970s. He earned his medical degree at The Medical  College of Georgia in Augusta. He came back home to West Point in 1981, began a medical practice in Valley and started making rounds at Lanier Memorial Hospital (now EAMC-Lanier).

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“I have been coming to this place for a long time,” he told the staff and residents of Diversicare. “I have enjoyed this place over the years. I think it was known as Golden Living at the time. I came with Dr. Coleman Simmons. He was a well-known local physician back then and was getting close to retirement.”

Following Dr. Simmons’ retirement in 1983, Downs became Golden Living’s medical director. He’s been in that role ever since. He has also served as medical director at the EAMC-Lanier Nursing Home, LaFayette Extended Care and at Lakewood Assisted Living.

Having all those responsibilities, Downs has been a very busy man for the past 40 years. When asked about retiring from his office practice and his nursing home practices, Downs said that now “maybe I can get a chance to breathe.”

For now, he will continue to do some work for Chattahoochee Hospice.

Downs is a consummate people person. He loves being around people, getting to know them well and helping them have good health.

Patients in the hospital or residents in the nursing home didn’t have to be told he was coming by to visit with them, they’d always hear him laughing with staff members when coming down the hall.

Vickie Withers, a retired nursing assistant from Lanier and a current resident at Diversicare, told Dr. Downs she could remember making rounds with him.

“I remember one time,” she said with a laugh, “that one man yelled as us, ‘What the heck are y’all doing waking me up at four o’clock in the morning?’ He told us he would a lot rather be fishing than in the hospital.”

Morgan Brown, the executive director of Diversicare of Lanett, said that the residents have always been taken with Dr. Downs.

“Our residents and our staff have loved him,” she said. “A recent survey had us near the top in our industry in terms of the quality of service provided, and Dr. Downs has helped us with that.”

Brown asked Downs if he was going to remain a council member in West Point.

Mayor Steve Tramell, who was present at the event, answered for him. “Yes,” he said. “He’s not leaving. We need him on the council.”

“We all want you to have a good retirement,” Brown said. “Enjoy your family. We would love for you to come back for visits.”

“I will,” Downs said.

“You are one of a kind, Dr. Downs,” Brown said. “Everyone here feels that way.”

There were lots of smiles and nodding of heads to that on the part of residents and staff members.

Downs said he was always mindful of an ancient Chinese proverb on doctors: “The best ones prevent sickness, the average ones attend to an impending sickness and the weak ones wait until someone is really sick before they start treating them.”

After college, Downs said he was open on where to live and practice medicine. He credits wife Debra on steering him back to West Point. She had grown up in the Atlanta area and preferred the pace of life in a smaller town. They were able to locate right across the street from Joe’s parents, Don and Ruth Downs.

“We were the youngest couple in the neighborhood at the time,” Downs said. “Now, we’re the oldest.”

Downs said he’s glad he came back home.

“West Point has always been home to me. I’m glad we came back,” he said.

Downs has two sisters and a brother. One of his sisters, Dr. Mardi Schauffler, retired last year after a long career as a gynecologist. The other sister, Doris L. Downs, is a retired Superior Court judge in the Atlanta area. Brother Wingate Downs is a professional photographer in Athens, Georgia.

Joe and Debra have three grown children. Son Will Downs is an attorney in Atlanta, daughter Emily Davis is an assistant principal at a school in Fulton County and daughter Ellen Beaulieu lives in El Cerrito, California where she teaches organic chemistry at a community college.

Downs is the proud grandpa of six grandchildren.