Durst Family Medicine is located in the heart of Sullivan’s Island just minutes from Mt. Pleasant. We offer same-day appointments and walk-ins are always welcome. We have been serving the community for over 65 years and proud to have a rich history dating back to our founding by Dr. George Durst Sr.
The late Isle of Palms family physician Dr. George Gardner Durst believed that those who benefited from a fortunate upbringing and education owed a debt of service to their communities.
Durst repaid his debt many, many times over.
Durst, who died in 1996, gave of himself as a decorated Army physician in England and France during World War II, as a family man and dedicated local physician for more than 40 years, as a church deacon, and as a public servant in business and political roles – including chairman of Charleston County Council.
Family, friends and colleagues described Durst as a humble, gentlemanly doctor who cared deeply about his patients and the community. He opened an office on Sullivan’s Island in 1948 and retired in 1990, leaving an indelible mark on the East Cooper area.
“He always said his hobby was service to the community,” said Elizabeth Watts Durst, his wife of 58 years.
Whenever the Dursts went out in public and saw one of his patients, she said he always took time to listen to concerns. It was a situation which, understandably, could get frustrating for a spouse.
Durst’s employees admired him.
“He was the epitome of the perfect gentleman. He was always considerate and always wore a tie,” said Mary Fletcher, a patient since 1954 and his secretary since 1970.
“He never got upset and was always grateful for the things you did for him,” Fletcher said.
Dot Ferguson, a nurse at the Durst practice since 1960, said he was a loving and caring person who took pride in serving families, which often included several generations.
“He loved to talk to people – never mind how behind schedule he was,” she said.
Durst often kept short office hours, leaving afternoons for house calls and evenings for hospital rounds. Ferguson recalled restocking his medical bags with supplies, and that Durst kept two special bags – one for obstetrics and one for hurricanes.
The years of service by Fletcher, Ferguson and the late Dot Martin demonstrate that he must have been a good employer, too. The three women compiled about 70 years of service to the Durst family practice.
Longtime patient Edith Mitchell knew Durst as a doctor to her grandparents, her mother, her husband and herself, and her children, and has fond memories of him.
“He was a fine person. He was the sort of person you think of as a family doctor,” Mitchell said, adding that “his ethics were beyond reproach.”
Mitchell’s grandfather – Dr. James Frampton – had been a doctor in the East Cooper area during the war. Mitchell said Frampton had “a great deal of respect” for Dr. Durst, who served as his doctor in his later years.
Mitchell and others said patients often had to wait in the office to see Durst – in part, because he never rushed seeing patients and often enjoyed chatting with them – but that any time an emergency or severe condition arose, he could be counted on to respond quickly and effectively.
Dr. Durst was especially known for his willingness to make house calls, even in the middle of the night when emergencies beckoned him, and driving into rural areas of the East Cooper area to make some of those calls.
Along with his personal medical service, Durst’s largest medical contribution to the East Cooper area was lobbying to get a certificate of need for a hospital in Mount Pleasant in the 1980s. The hospital was built in 1986, and now is a pillar of the East Cooper economy and a much-used resource.
Former Mount Pleasant Mayor Johnnie Dodds was a friend of Durst’s for 40 years and said Durst played a significant role in the convincing the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control of the need for the hospital.
“It was an extremely difficult thing to do,” Dodds said of the bureaucratic process to get the hospital. “He was there every step of the way.”
Durst spoke at hearings and encouraged patients to show up at meetings to demonstrate support.
“The entire East Cooper community owes a debt to him,” Dodds said.
Colleagues said many doubted Durst’s assertion that once the hospital was built, other doctors and specialists would locate offices in Mount Pleasant. His vision of the future of the hospital was perfect.
Today, a portrait of Durst, commissioned by a patient in 1989, hangs in the lobby of East Cooper Regional Medical Center – despite Durst’s best effort to thwart the gift. Durst was interviewed for the Aug. 17, 1989, edition of East Cooper This Week about the portrait.
“She (the patient) said she wanted to give a portrait of me, and I said I didn’t care about a portrait. I said `If you want to do something, give a donation to the medical library.’ She gave money to the medical library and the next thing I knew she had given money to commission a portrait.”
Durst added: “I think of myself as a modest person. If you read my record you know I’ve done a lot, but I don’t (like to) stick my neck out.”
One major political achievement was Durst’s 22 years of service to the Sullivan’s Island Township Commission (which preceded town council). Durst served as vice chairman from 1950 to 1962 and then as chairman from 1962 to 1972.
Former Sullivan’s Island Mayor Melvin Anderegg served on the commission with Durst in the 1960s and early 1970s and often sought advice on town matters from him. “He guided me in my early days. He really encouraged me a lot,” Anderegg said. “I often called him for advice and to discuss situations. He was always there for me.”
Anderegg recalled how Durst squeezed in town business during his busy schedule, and that Anderegg sometimes would accompany Durst on rides to the country when the doctor was making house calls to talk about town matters.
Durst was the force behind the commission’s decision to put a sewer system on the island in late 1960s. Anderegg said Durst, being a doctor, understood the dangerous health implications of having malfunctioning septic systems on the island, especially during rainy spells.
“He did so much for so many people and asked for so little in return,” Anderegg said. “I know he’s up there with the saints.” Durst’s political career was not confined to the East Cooper area.
In 1972, upon the recommendation of the Charleston legislative delegation, Gov. John West appointed Durst to the unexpired term of the late J. Mitchell Graham. During that term, the S.C. Municipal Association presented Durst with an award for outstanding service.
Two years later, Durst was elected to his first and only four-year term on Charleston County Council. In 1975, after a heated controversy involving the financial problems of Councilman John P. O’Keefe, council “drafted” Durst as its chairman.
Of the drafting, Durst said in a Jan. 7, 1975, News and Courier article that “I would feel it a duty and would do the best I could to serve.”
Unlike many local politicians through the years, Durst did not seek re-election in 1978 because he said he wanted to “devote more time to my professional practice and personal business affairs.” According to a May 4, 1980, article in the Sunday News and Courier, Durst said one of his biggest disappointments in public life was the failure to get 1-95 routed into Charleston. “It would have helped tourism and the city a great deal. We missed getting it by a very narrow margin.”
The careers of the Dursts’ children are testament of their parental success. He and wife Elizabeth Watts Durst had four children.
His eldest son, Dr. George Durst Jr., graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in 1968, served in the military in Thailand, and then joined his father’s practice in November 1970.
George Jr. respected him both as a father and fellow physician. “It was a great pleasure working with Dad,” said George Jr. “He had an uncanny ability to diagnose things. He was the first to diagnose a bite of the brown recluse spider east of the Mississippi. “He once diagnosed a case of leprosy, and a case of anthrax – a rare disease found in people who work with sheep. There aren’t many sheep around here, but he (the patient) was a customs worker who inspected some raw wool that had come into the port. Dad had never seen a case before and had been out of medical school for 30 years when he made that diagnosis”.
George Jr. said his father’s memory was extremely remarkable until his illness.
Durst, needless to say, had a big influence on George Jr.’s life.
“He taught by example … The biggest lesson he taught me was that no matter what you do, be happy in what you do (because) that is where you will spend most of your waking hours.”
George Jr. described him as a “strict but lenient father” and a firm believer that those who have the “wherewithal” should give back to the community. Durst came from a banking family in Greenwood.
One fond memory George Jr. recalled was during a cross-country, family car trip. The family had stopped in Las Vegas, and his father was going to show his children the evils of gambling.
Durst took the children into a casino to show them how easy it was to lose money. He put a silver dollar into a slot machine, pulled the lever and hit the jackpot.
“Silver dollars were flying everywhere,” George Jr. said.
Not deterred from teaching them a lesson, Durst turned to his children and told them another rule: “Quit while you’re still ahead.”
Middle son Edmunds W. Durst said while many focus on his service as a doctor, it was his father’s military service that had the greatest influence on him personally.
Edmunds recalled how his father’s recollections duty in France stirred his imagination. He traces his interest in French and other foreign languages to his parents’ conversations in French when they didn’t want their children to hear what they were saying. “The crumbs- from the table of a father. You never know how it will influence a child,” he said.
Durst’s earliest adult accomplishments came during World War II.
Educated at Clemson College and the Medical College of South Carolina, Durst joined the Army Medical Corps. During the war, at the age of 35, Durst was promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel and may have been the youngest to achieve the rank in the medical corps at the time.
Durst was the surgeon of the Ground Force Reinforcement Command in Europe from November, 1943 to May 1945.
According to an official Army communique, he served an “important part in the operations furnishing all reinforcements required by the Army” during the Normandy invasion and subsequent fighting in
France and Germany.
Durst was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his service.
His medal citation states that Durst demonstrated “broad professional and military knowledge” and showed his “alertness and constant insistence (sic) on proper medical screening.”
“Colonel Durst’s outstanding performance and devotion to duty contributed materially to the success of the war effort and reflect great credit upon himself and the armed forces of the United States.”
Durst’s service ended in 1945 when he was diagnosed and discharged with tuberculosis. He spent a year recovering in a tuberculosis hospital in Arizona, before moving to Sullivan’s Island in 1947.
It was during his war service that he decided to move to the East Cooper area for the rest of his life. He had grown to love the area during his days at the medical college.