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BY STEVEN MAYER Californian staff writer email@example.com
He was brilliant enough to graduate from high school at age 16 and medical school at 24. And he was "country" enough to wear jeans, cowboy boots and a Merle Haggard belt buckle under his white lab coat during his 42 years as a family doctor in east Bakersfield.
Dr. Marion C. Barnard II -- "MC" to his friends and patients -- died Thursday at his home in northeast Bakersfield, surrounded by loved ones. He was 65.
Those closest to him declined to reveal Barnard's cause of death, noting that as he didn't share the details of his illness while he was alive, it wouldn't be right to reveal it following his passing.
But as they recalled memories and events from Barnard's life, his friends' stories began to paint a dual image of a superb diagnostician with a profound love for his patients who also happened to be old-school enough to be paid for his services with a cord of wood, a native American artifact or nothing at all.
"As brilliant as he was, MC was as humble and common as you can get," said longtime patient and friend Neil Kitchen.
He loved horses, rodeo and country music, and he built a hummingbird habitat in his backyard that attracted dozens of the tiny birds each season.
"MC was my doctor for over 40 years," said friend and patient Michael Cerri. "He came from a rich medical family tradition."
The practice on Niles Street was started by his late father, Dr. Marion C. Barnard. Together, they provided several generations of local families with top-notch medical care and advice.
"The building still looks like it did in the 1950s," said patient Tammie Eutsler. "It's like walking back in time going in there -- and that is one of the things that really appeals to me."
Belinda "BJ" Harms began working as a medical assistant at the Niles Street office in 1982. A decade later, their professional relationship blossomed into a romantic partnership that lasted until Barnard's death.
"He was dedicated to his patients," Harms said. "If a patient didn't have money, he would treat him at no cost."
Recently, a patient gave Barnard an American Indian bowl in exchange for an office visit.
"He was in medicine to care for patients, not for the money," Harms said.
It's a theme patients return to over and over.
Susie Matney, of McKittrick, said her family has been cared for by the Barnards for several decades. Sure, she could have found a physician closer to home, but it wouldn't have been Dr. Barnard.
"You could call him anytime, night or day," she said of MC Barnard. "If you were his patient, he was there for you."
Dennis Beeson, 67, believes he wouldn't be alive today were it not for Barnard's keen eye and no-nonsense approach to his patients -- both in and out of the examination room.
They were at a restaurant one day, years ago, and Beeson showed Barnard a discoloration on his skin.
"I said, 'What do you make of this?'" Beeson recalled. "MC said, 'If you're not in my office before the sun goes down, I'll come looking for you.'"
The discoloration turned out to be melanoma, an often-fatal skin cancer.
Kitchen recalled his own story, a harrowing day many years ago when he received a call from his father informing him that Kitchen's mom had fallen on the driveway and was badly hurt.
Kitchen immediately called Barnard, who had recently purchased a Mercedes coupe from his friend, country music legend Merle Haggard. Before the son could get home to tend to his mother, Barnard had already arrived, helped the patient into his coupe and raced to the hospital.
When Kitchen arrived at his parents' home, his father was standing there in amazement.
"He said, 'I didn't think doctors even made house calls,'" Kitchen remembered.
Haggard couldn't be reached for comment Monday, but Kitchen said the Hag has been in touch with those who cared for and loved Barnard and is fully aware of the situation.
"I would say Merle is probably MC's best friend," Kitchen said. "I would like to think I was MC's best friend, but I'm just happy to be included among his friends."
Jo Ellen Walton, Barnard's sister, and Sara Pitts, his daughter, could not be reached for comment. His son, Matthew Basey, declined to comment for this story.
A memorial service is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Calvary Bible Church on Manor Street.
In lieu of flowers, donations are requested to support Families of Spinal Muscular Atrophy.