Community • Edward W. Guinn

When duty calls in Fort Worth’s worst neighborhood, the doctor is in.

WATCHING HIM TEND TO THE LAME and the afflicted at his modest clinic in one of Fort Worth’s poorest neighborhoods, you’d never guess that there was anything extraordinary about 74-year-old Edward W. Guinn. Since the late fifties, however, he’s been one of the few providers of health care for Stop Six, a grubby four-mile triangle of run-down homes and abandoned buildings on the southeast side of town. Stop Six was the name of a station on the Interurban Line that connected Fort Worth and Dallas in the early part of the century, and it’s as bleak as a war zone—and nearly as dangerous. When Guinn first set up shop there, the sound of sirens meant an ambulance was on its way with mangled and bleeding patients. On any given day he’d treat cops shot on the street and comfort fathers who walked in carrying dead babies. His staff still patches up the occasional bullet hole in the front door. “For years you couldn’t beg, borrow, or bribe doctors to come down here,” he says with a chuckle. 

No one had to bribe Guinn, a trim, comfortable, good-humored man with a soft voice and gray hair and an easy smile that betrays no sense of sacrifice or self-importance. The grandson of James E. Guinn, a well-respected educator whose family moved to Fort Worth just after the Civil War, he grew up in a relatively prosperous black neighborhood a few miles away. Even today, the Guinns are among the city’s most prominent African Americans. His brother is also a doctor, as is one of his sons, and his sisters are retired teachers. He could be working out of one of the poshest suites in the medical district. So why did he choose a hellhole like Stop Six? “When I got my letter of acceptance to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston in 1952, it said, ‘This is in the nature of an endowment from the people of the state of Texas,’” he explains. “I don’t want to sound pious, but that carried with it a responsibility.”

In 1965, eight years after he opened his practice, a group of black students from Texas Christian University approached Guinn about vying for a city council seat. “They’ll smear you,” his wife warned. He ran anyway and lost. “I was kind of bitter at first,” he remembers, “but also very naive.” He decided to try again. A TCU professor became Guinn’s mentor, instructing him to curry favor with Amon Carter and other members of Fort Worth’s establishment and always to say “gummint,” not “government.” In 1967 Guinn was easily elected for the first of two 2-year terms.

Those were watershed years for Fort Worth. The city not only avoided race riots but broke the developers’ hold on government, facilitated the shift from funeral homes providing ambulance services to modern-day EMS, and purchased land for DFW Airport. “I put on my hard hat and rode in the bulldozer for the groundbreaking,” Guinn told me, savoring the memory. Indeed, it was a heady time for him: He served on the state’s Criminal Justice Council under three governors, dined with LBJ at a White House state dinner, greeted visiting dignitaries, and became a media darling. All the while he continued to practice medicine full-time. With no partner, he was (and still is) always on call.

There were temptations, of course. People urged him to run for higher office. Friends suggested that he move his clinic. His eight children nagged him to rent one of those upscale apartments downtown and enjoy his senior years. When people ask why he decided to retire from politics in 1971 and refocus his attention on his patients, Guinn says simply, “I just wanted to return to the relative anonymity of practicing medicine.”

Nearly thirty years later he’s still relatively anonymous—but the residents of Stop Six sleep better at night knowing the doctor is in.

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