SOUTH WILLIAMSON, Ky. - A true pioneer in the local medical profession passed away Sunday night. Dr. Mary Johnson, 88, died after a lingering illness.

Johnson was the first pediatrician in the Tug Valley area and the first female doctor.

Johnson had a long, distinguished 41-year career at Appalachian Regional Hospital and Clinic in South Williamson. She started at ARH, known at that time as the Miners Memorial Hospital, in 1960 and retired in 2001.

Johnson was born in rural Dorton, Ky., the second oldest of 12 children. Her family moved to Wheelwright, Ky., where she graduated as valedictorian from Wheelwright High School in 1949. From there she attended the University of Kentucky and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1953. She then attended the University of Louisville Medical School, graduating in 1957. There were only six women in her medical school class of 100.

She did a pediatric residence at the University of Tennessee before moving to the Tug Valley area in 1960.

Johnson and her husband raised four sons, who all attended Belfry High School. Dr. Charles "Chuck" Johnson followed in his mother's footsteps and is still a pediatric physician at ARH. Both Johnson and his mother served as the team doctor for Belfry High School's football team. She served in that capacity in the 1970s and '80s, while Chuck Johnson took over those duties in the 1980s.

Dr. Mary Johnson has eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Her granddaughter Mary Beth (Johnson) Baylon, another Belfry graduate, is now an OB-GYN in Lexington, Ky.

She was considered a role model for many youngsters in the community, especially teenage girls.

Tim Hatfield, CEO for Tug Valley ARH, said, "Dr. Mary Johnson was a pioneer of pediatric care in our community and at our Tug Valley Pediatric Clinic. She served the people of our region for over 40 years. Her mission was to return to the mountains to make a difference in the delivery of healthcare in the mountains. She was kind, gentle and always was very compassionate to every person that she came in contact with. Dr. Johnson was my pediatrician when I was a child. I always knew when she went over to the intercom to request the nurse to come back to my exam room that a penicillin injection was headed my way."

Hatfield said Dr. Chuck Johnson "has done an amazing job carrying on his mother's legacy. Dr. Mary Johnson was a difference maker and an inspiration in our valley. She always had the people of the Tug Valley community as her first priority. She truly was one of a kind."