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Hank Hanks and the Calling

By WILLIAM PAINE

william.paine@southwesttimes.com

“I got the calling at about age 14,” said Dr. Hank Hanks. “Mom was a guidance counselor and I remember her saying early on, ‘You’re good with science, you’re good with math. You’re good with people … maybe you should be a doctor.’ And I thought, that sounds right.”

Hanks recounted this exchange with his mother, Faye Hanks, from the front porch of his historic house on 8th Street in Pulaski.

“And of course there’s the scripture, ‘To him that much has been given, much is expected,’” Hanks continued. “The idea being that you’re given gifts and talents, so you’ve got to put them to good use.”

Dr. Hank Hanks has put his medical talents to good use for many years. These days Hanks operates a medical practice at Volvo Trucks for Volvo employees and their dependents, as well as acting as the Medical Director at the Pulaski Free Clinic.

Hank Hanks speaks rapidly and with authority, but his words are delivered in a laid back tone … more like a musician than a doctor.

Maybe I’m left with that impression because the first time I saw Hanks, he was front and center singing and playing guitar for a rock and roll band called Don’t Quit Your Day Job at Harvest Night at the Marketplace event.

Doubtless his calm demeanor has proven useful over the years, as Hanks dealt with thousands of patients who came through the doors of the emergency room needing to be treated for a wide variety of maladies.

Hank Hanks was born in Georgia and moved to Pulaski with his family in 1964, when his father, Carl Hanks, became director of the Pulaski YMCA.

See the Looking Back section for more of Hanks’ memories about the downtown Y of the 1960’s.

Hank Hanks was named after his father Carl Eugene Hanks Sr. but has answered to Hank for as long as he can remember.

“Mom thought I would be athletic and she picked a name that would sound good on the PA system like a matching number 88 … Hank Hanks,” said Hanks.

He attended Northwood Elementary, then Central, then Pulaski High School before starting his 10th grade year in the newly built Pulaski County High School.

He met a pretty girl named Janet in his gifted class in the 11th grade. Their first date was at Homecoming on Oct. 26, 1975.

“I remember that because the next year, one of her friends gave me maximum trouble about forgetting my anniversary and I’m like, I will never do that again,” said Hanks.

He went on to attend the University of Virginia before matriculating to the Medical College of Virginia in Newport News.

Hank and Janet married May 12, 1984, and after finishing his residency, the couple decided to return to the area. The Hanks came to Wytheville to join a group of doctors who were starting a new family practice in Fort Chiswell.

“The policy in the group was that you made rounds with your patients seven days a week,” Hanks recounted. “We made house calls. We went way out into the weeds on dirt roads. We had three nursing homes. It was very busy. A lot of times, Janet would have to bring the kids with a picnic dinner to go make house calls with me or I wouldn’t see them for two or three days. I found out that I could have a family practice or a family, but I couldn’t keep both of them.”

After nearly seven years, Hanks decided to try something different. At the urging of a fellow doctor, Hanks took a job as an emergency room doctor at the LewisGale Pulaski Hospital.

It was 1994 and the Hank’s family still lived in Wytheville. Hank was commuting to Pulaski and Janet was traveling to Blacksburg to get her master’s degree at VT.

“One day Janet came downstairs and said, ‘God gave me a message,’” Hanks recounted. “If somebody comes and offers us this amount of money to buy this house, then it’s time for us to move.”

The sale happened in short order and just before the Christmas of 1995, the Hanks moved to their current home, a stately brick house built in 1902. It’s just down the street from where Hank grew up.

Hanks worked in the LewisGale emergency room for the next 20 years and worked as the ER director for seven of those years. In 2011, Hanks also found time to do emergency room work at Twin County Regional Hospital in Galax.

When LewisGale changed management, Hanks decided to leave, taking his last shift there in January 2015. Two months later he was working in the ER of Pioneer Community Hospital in Patrick County. The commute was significant but the hospital director offered Hanks a flexible schedule, which suited him well.

“I could work two or three days in a row because it wasn’t that busy as long as you could get some rest or could get some back up if it did get crazy.,” said Hanks. “You never know what’s coming next in the emergency room. You just have to realize your capabilities and what you and your crew are capable of, and just deal with it as it comes. You can’t control it.”

In 2017, while on a bike ride with a friend who worked at Volvo, Hanks was told of a new family practice office which would open inside the Volvo plant in Dublin. Later that year, Dr. Hank Hanks opened his family practice at Volvo.

“I like being back into a daily practice because that’s what I always wanted to do,” said Hanks.

Somehow, Hanks has found time to be involved in Free Clinic work for more than three decades.

“That’s pretty pure that’s from the standpoint of practice,” said Hanks of the Free Clinic. “One of the things that kills me about regular practice is the insurance and administration and all the people with their fingers in the pie and you’re just like, ‘Whatever happened to the doctor patient relationship?’ That’s where the healing happens. The heart to heart is where it happens. A company telling you what you can or can’t do is so fragmented and mercenary. You’ve got some people who are just doing their darndest to try and make ends meet, so that’s why you feel good about being down there because without the clinic they just wouldn’t have any care.”

Taking care of sick and injured people for years on end is tough duty. Why did he choose this life?

“That’s an easy one,” said Hanks. “You never have to wake up in the morning and say, ‘Why am I doing this?” You might say, ‘Why am I doing this to myself … but there’s a meaning to your life. You have an area of expertise and you’ve got a chance to take care of people in a way that very few people can.”

“Think about going to the doctor’s office,” Hanks continued. “Where else do you go and just disrobe? If I said take your clothes off, you’d probably take your clothes off. That’s not like a power trip. That’s a real intimacy that I don’t take lightly. That’s a trust right there. The same with medicine. If I give you a medicine, you don’t know what it will do, so I’d better know. So we have to spend the time. We have to know each other. Maybe some company or group might think you could plug a robot into that but I don’t buy it.”

Of course it’s not all work. Before the coronavirus “shut the world down,” Hanks would find time to travel to music festivals like Bonaroo and Floydfest.

“My first guitar was a gift from my girlfriend/wife,” said Hanks. “My first year in med school I was in a Christian medical fellowship … one of those kumbaya groups,” Hanks recounted. “That’s when I started playing but even then I was mostly just hitting three chords and accompanying people. Over time, I played more and a lot of time it was church related, truthfully.”

Hanks has led Praise and Worship services at First United Methodist Church in Pulaski for nearly a decade now. It’s the same church his family started attending back in 1964. The Don’t Quit Your Day Job band has been playing at the Marketplace (for free) since 2013. Hank’s son Chip plays the drums.

Daughters Suzanne and Sarah are both married and have successful careers. Hank’s wife Janet earned her doctorate last year and is in charge of all the academic assistance and tutoring at New River Community College.

Both Janet and Hank have had health scares recently. About a year ago Hank had a heart surgery.

“That will really open your eyes,” said Hank. “That came out of the blue. You always think when you’re retired, you will be just as you are now … but maybe not.”

Hanks doesn’t think he’ll retire anytime soon and has no immanent plans to leave town.

“We’re close to everybody,” said Hanks. “Mom and dad are still here. Brother Mark and his wife Pam are here. Janet’s sister and husband are in Dublin. So from the family situation, what else could you want? I have no reason to go anywhere else but I would never say never. I mean, would I like to lie on a Caribbean Beach all the time? Yeah … Oh yeah that would be awesome. I probably would have gone to Belize four years ago but it’s not just about me.”

All in all, Hanks seemed contented with his life in Pulaski.

“I love the life,” said Hanks. “I love the people. Whatever frustrations people may have, it is home and it’s about the relationships. Family is in good places and everybody is serving people and they’re quality human beings. We enjoy spending time with one another.”

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