Dr. John B. Isbell leaves a legacy of lives

Dr. John B. Isbell, 89, died on May 15.

Fort Payne has lost “Dr. John”, a local Obstetrician who delivered 10,000 babies over a career spanning decades of service.

Dr. John B. Isbell, III, 89, died May 15 at his home surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Mary Nell Norwood Isbell, and their children: Dr. Blake Isbell, Dr. Steve Isbell and Nancy Isbell Meisler, RN, MSN, plus their spouses and nine grandchildren, six great grandchildren. His surviving siblings are Dr. Charles Isbell and Sara Isbell Quinn.

His extended family also includes “an incredible group of ‘Airport Buddies’ who unfailingly supported him and treated him with the utmost respect, and employees of Isbell Medical Group who did the same, always with a smile,” his obituary reads.

“He was our rock and such an honorable patriarch for our family. He will be so terribly missed!” said daughter-in-law Bonnie Freeman Isbell.

“As an exemplary physician, uncle John B was an important role model in my life,” said nephew Chuck Isbell. “He was so skilled with his hands that he could deliver babies that weren’t so easy to deliver, play a guitar, fire a cannon and build all manner of things. He even built his own airplane and flew it! More than all of this, though, he exemplified to me and others what it meant to be a faithful follower of Jesus and to unselfishly care deeply for the least of these. He served his community by helping bring the miracle of life into the world more than 15,000 times! He performed countless life-saving surgeries and procedures throughout his medical career. He served his country and served God through his vocation, as a Sunday school teacher, as a medical missionary and in countless other ways.”

Dr. Isbell was an active member of First Baptist Church, serving as a deacon, Sunday School teacher and choir member. His pastor, Marshall Henderson, said he was impressed by Dr. Isbell’s insatiable desire to learn, share stories and pass on his knowledge. For these qualities and others, he was revered by many and “had his hand on so many lives.”

He was a 1949 graduate of DeKalb County High School and earned degrees from Auburn University in 1954 and Medical College of Alabama in 1959. After serving an internship at Lloyd Noland Hospital, he returned with his family to Fort Payne in 1960, founding Isbell Clinic and practicing General Medicine and later limiting to Obstetrics and Gynecology until his retirement in 1995.

He was a Korean War veteran, serving as a medic and ambulance driver from December 1950 until January 1952. He remained a member of the VFW until his death.

Over the decades, “Dr. John” watched the children he delivered grow up to raise their own kids and gave them airplane rides to encourage interest in flying through the Young Eagles program. John B. Isbell, Sr., donated farmland for constructing the municipal airport, named Isbell Field.

Several members of Dr. Isbell’s family took to Facebook with loving tributes to a man who was integral to their childhoods.

“To say my uncle was an amazing man is an understatement,” wrote niece Laura Isbell Patterson. “No words can describe his kindness, gentleness, his love of laughter and a good joke, the way he always made you feel special, his mechanical and intellectual abilities, his lifelong love of learning, his mental and physical toughness, and his love for his family, our Lord, our country and his community and home church.”

“He inspired and encouraged me to become a nurse as much as my dad did,” wrote Karen Isbell Ivey, who works at Huntsville Hospital.

“John B may be gone from our physical world, but his love of country, fellow man, and family was a tremendous inspiration for all of us that had the opportunity to know [him],” wrote nephew Kirk Tcherneshoff of Valley Head.

A private service was held Sunday, Chuck Isbell said, “Because of Covid-19 [social distancing guidelines for funeral homes], only his sister Sara Quinn, his children and grandchildren attended. My sister Karen asked Sara about the service and she told her it was very special. A family trio sang a cappella, there was a military component with the flag and 'Taps' played, then there was a fly over by several of his flying buddies from the airport at the end of the service with [a missing man formation].”

A memorial service honoring Dr. John’s life will occur after the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions. Donations may be made to his church, First Baptist Church of Fort Payne at 106 Grand Avenue North, Fort Payne, AL 35967-2032, or to Mitchell’s Place at 4778 Overton Road, Birmingham, AL 35210, which was founded by Isbell’s daughter and son-in law, Nancy Isbell Meisler and Allen Meisler to improve the lives of children affected by autism and other developmental disabilities.

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