Henry Vance Kirby was born on April 3, 1908 in Harrison, Arkansas to Lender Bender Kirby, Ph.G. and Virgie Vance Kirby. He was the second child born to the family. He had one brother and two sisters, Lillian and Hazel.
Henry graduated from Harrison High School in 1926 where he was the senior class president. He enrolled in the University of Arkansas as a premed student in the College of Arts and Science, also in the ROTC program and he worked part time. After 2 years he applied to Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri and was accepted as one of only 2 students from Arkansas. This was the last year the Medical School accepted students with only 3 years of pre medical courses. After graduation with a B.S. degree in just 3 years he left Arkansas for St. Louis. With $50 a month help from his sister, $400 of borrowed money, being a member of Phi Beta Pi Fraternity–living in the fraternity house with room and board for yard work and firing the furnace–and help from the ROTC he graduated as a M.D. in 1933. At that time he was also commissioned as a First Lieutenant.
Both parents of Dr. Henry Kirby came from a family of doctors. The grandfathers (Dr. Leonidas Kirby and Dr. B.J. Vance) and great grandfathers (Dr. Samuel Bender and Dr. John R. Vance) were doctors. With Henry Vance’s graduation, five generations of doctors from his direct linage had graduated from the same school of medicine (Drs. B.F. Kirby. O.C. Bender, Leonidas Kirby, F.B. Kirby, and Henry Vance Kirby).
With graduation behind him, he entered in an internship at De Paul Hospital in St. Louis. As he was completing his first year and anticipating his second year, Dr. Kirby received word that Dr. Frank Kirby, his uncle with whom he planned to join in practice, had died suddenly. He left St. Louis in August 1934 and returned to Arkansas to take up his uncle’s practice.
In WWII Dr. Kirby joined the Army entering with his ROTC Commission as a First Lieutenant. He served in Africa and Italy, received campaign ribbons with 3 oak leaves and was awarded the Bronze Star. He was discharged on August 16, 1945 and returned immediately to Harrison to resume his practice. He supported the American Legion and the VFW thereafter.
In the early years of his practice Dr. Kirby shared an office building with Dr. C.B. McCoy, Dr. Frank Kirby’s son-in-law and the two young doctors consulted with and supported each other. They charged $1.00 for office visits and $2.00 for house calls. In 1941 each moved to separate buildings though they remained close associates for their long years of practice. Dr. Kirby added 6 beds to his clinic for short-stay patients. There was no hospital in Harrison until 1950. Dr. Kirby never sent a bill or kept a ledger. He felt patients would pay if they could. Finally in 1949 he began to keep a card file for tax purposes, as advised by a lawyer.
Dr. Kirby joined the Arkansas Medical Society in 1934 when he first returned to Arkansas and he remained a member throughout his life. He held all offices in the Boone County Medical Society; served as President of the 9th Councilor District Medical Society; wrote the 1975 “History of North Central Arkansas Anthology of Arkansas Medicine” for the 100 Anniversary of the Arkansas Medical Society. He was on of the founders of the Foundation for Medical Care and served 6 years as Foundation Councilman. He served as the Medical Examiner for the Boone County Draft Board and served on Governor Rockefeller’s Medical Advisory Committee. He joined the Academy of General Practice in 1952 and served as its director; in 1972 when the organization became the Academy of Family Practice he became a Charter Fellow and a Life Member. He was a member of the Southern Medical Association and in the late 1960s served as Vice-Councilor. He held membership in The American Geriatrics Society. When the first hospital opened in Harrison, he was elected its first Chief of Staff. He served as Medical Director of the Hill Top Nursing Center and Hillcrest Home for several years. In 1985 an honor was bestowed on him as a “Life Time Member of the Fifty Year Club of American Medicine”.
Dr. Kirby served as County Coroner for Boone County from 1963 until his death–for 31 years. He was a member of the International Coroners and Medical Examiners Association and was a member of the Arkansas Coroner’s Association
In civic activities Dr. Kirby was equally as active. He was a member of Sons of the Confederate Veterans; the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars a member of Harrison Chamber of Commerce, served as its president one term; served on The Boy Scout of America Council; was a member of Boone County Historical Society serving a term as president and as a spokesman for the Society on many occasions. He was a member of the Harrison School board for 10 years and served as president for 3 years. In the Harrison Rotary Club (since 1934) he was president in 1957-8 and wan named a Paul Harris Fellow. Leading to this honor was his years of contribution to the Rotary Club and a notice in a 1975 Cambridge, England publication listing him as a Man of Achievement and later as being one of the 5000 outstanding men of the world.
For relaxation from his busy schedule Dr. Kirby raised Irish Setters and other hunting dogs for quail hunting.
When he retired after 54 years of medical practice. the City of Harrison honored him with a “Dr. Kirby Day” held in April of 1989. More than 400 people attended.
Dr. Kirby joined the Presbyterian church in Harrison at the age of 14 and remained a member throughout life, serving the church as an Elder. He died on September 21, 1993 at the age of 85. His funeral service was held in that same church. He was buried at the Maplewood Cemetery in Harrison, Arkansas.