A A A print this page

Millsaps Alum Receives Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award for Public Service

August 13, 2013


Medical mission trips inspired Dr. Joe Bailey to consider how underserved patients in northeast Mississippi could receive needed care.

"The more I went on mission trips, the more I realized people at home had unmet medical needs," said Bailey, who completed medical school pre-requisites at Millsaps in three years (1965-1968) and then began medical school at the University of Mississippi. A former trustee of the College, he received his bachelor's in chemistry from Millsaps in 1987 after completing four courses by directed study and taking his oral comprehensive exam 19 years after leaving Millsaps for medical school.

The Tree of Life Clinic featured on WTVA News in Tupelo

In 2010, Bailey founded the Tree of Life Clinic, a clinic in Tupelo to provide free medical care for people who do not have health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. A dental clinic was added in 2012.

"Since the clinic's founding it has served well over 8,000 patients and issued 30,000 free prescriptions," said Bailey, who practices gastroenterology and internal medicine in Amory.

For his work in establishing the clinic, Bailey was recently recognized as one of America's "Unsung Heroes" and named a recipient of the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award. Known as the Nobel Prize for public service, the award was bestowed during the national Jefferson Awards dinner in June in Washington, D.C.

Five hundred people attended the awards presentation, which included among its 20 honorees Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wisel.

"I had no idea I would be named one of the three Unsung Heroes," said Bailey, who only expected to be honored as an award nominee. "It's been good publicity for the clinic and helped ramp up contributions."

Operated by a volunteer staff of 34 people that includes Bailey's wife, Polly, as clinic manager, the clinic operates two days a month, and there is no shortage of patients.

The clinic opens on the first Wednesday of each month at 4:30 p.m. and provides care for 90 medical patients and 18 dental patients and on the third Saturdays of each month at 8:30 a.m. and provides care for 110 medical patients and 18 dental patients.

"There are often 100 people in line when we open,"' Bailey said. "We've had patients wait in line over night before we open on Saturday."

Bailey said his work at the free clinic is gratifying as he has helped patients with diabetes better control their blood sugar, patients with hypertension manage their blood pressure and others who need care to be able to return to work.

"This is why I became a physician," he said. "I became a physician to help people and do the right thing."

A native of Coffeeville, Bailey met his wife, Polly, who graduated from Millsaps in 1968, on campus. One of their daughters, Paula, graduated from Millsaps in 1993.

While the Tree of Life Clinic is perhaps the volunteer work most dear to his heart, Bailey also serves as a member of the Rust College Board of Trustees, the Sanctuary Hospice House Board of Directors and the Lake Junaluska Assembly Board of Directors. He is also past chairman of the Tupelo Airport Authority and the only chairman of the Tupelo Multi-Racial Committee during its eight-year existence.