Family of former Johnson City physician donates medical equipment, books to ETSU

From left to right, Dr. Stephen Preas, his wife, Sandy Preas; State Sen. Rusty Crowe; and Dr. Robert Means, Quillen College of Medicine dean.

From left to right, Dr. Stephen Preas, his wife, Sandy Preas; State Sen. Rusty Crowe; and Dr. Robert Means, Quillen College of Medicine dean.

Medical equipment and books belonging to a well-known former Johnson City physician have made their way to East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine.

Dr. Bill Preas worked as a family medicine doctor in Johnson City from 1929 through his death in 1970. Last month, his son, Dr. Stephen Preas, a psychiatrist who lives and practices in Atlanta, visited the Quillen College of Medicine to donate some of his father’s belongings to the university.

“These are items that were in my dad’s office when he practiced Family Medicine in Johnson City,” Preas said. “I felt like they belonged here and should stay in the area where my dad was born and where he spent his life working as a physician.”

Preas shared stories of his dad while talking about some of the donated items, including his father’s medical bag and instruments he carried while making house calls, a portable oxygen bottle, an old prescription pad and medical books from the 1800s.

“These items will be put in a place of honor that will memorialize Dr. Preas’ service to the region and whereby their educational value will carry on through the Quillen College of Medicine,” said Dr. Robert Means, dean of the college.

An old photo of Dr.  Bill Preas.

An old photo of Dr.
Bill Preas.

Dr. Bill Preas began his practice in downtown Johnson City in 1929, first with his father, Dr. James Henry Preas, at an office next to Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church and later at 220 E. Market St.

While he saw many patients in his office, he saw just as many patients at their own homes or even at the Preas family home on Buffalo Street.

“It was a different time then for doctors. He delivered 5,000 babies in people’s homes,” his son recalled. “And he got paid in all kinds of things. He always had something in the back of his car that someone gave him as payment – from moonshine to a cow.”

State Senator Rusty Crowe also was on hand for the donation last month, as the senior Dr. Preas was his godfather and Crowe helped get the Preas family in touch with the university regarding the donation.

“Bill Preas was loved by everybody in town,” Crowe noted.

Preas was born in Johnson City in 1905 and played on the first baseball and football teams at Science Hill High School. He attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute, Vanderbilt University and graduated from the Medical College of Virginia before returning to the region to open up his practice. He continued to work in Johnson City, with the exception of time served as a lieutenant colonel with the U.S. Medical Corps during World War II, through his death from prostate cancer at the age of 65.

The donated medical items will be displayed at The Museum at Mountain Home, which is operated by the Quillen College of Medicine. The museum, located on the Veterans Affairs campus focuses on telling the story of the development of health care in South Central Appalachia from the earliest practitioner to present.


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