Crossing Boundaries: The Pioneering Career of Dr. Peter W. Houck



In December 1970 Dr. Peter Houck received a phone call from Dr. Edwin Vaden that set in motion ripples of change—change that would span decades and profoundly affect the delivery of medical care in Central Virginia. Houck was living in Dallas, Texas, and was partway through a one-year fellowship at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the budding specialty of neonatal medicine. Vaden asked him to return to Lynchburg to practice and also take on the extraordinary task of establishing the state’s first non-university-based neonatal intensive care nursery. Houck was reluctant.
Peter Houck was a Lynchburg native. The Houcks traced their lineage to Pennsylvania coal miners who bought and resurrected a steel mill on the Shenandoah River after the Civil War. His grandfather left the steel business to retail furniture in Harrisonburg. His father, Dr. Joseph W. “Joe” Houck, met and married Katherine “Kitty” Kemp while he was in surgery training at the University of Virginia. Katherine was a Langhorne; Lady Astor was her great aunt. Upon completion of his training in 1936, the couple moved to Lynchburg, where he remained in practice until 1975.   
Peter William Houck, born November 2, 1938, was the second of four sons born to Joseph and Katherine. He attended Garland-Rodes elementary school, spent two years at Virginia Episcopal School, and then graduated from E. C. Glass High School. Although he grew up in Lynchburg at a time when social norms were rarely challenged, young Peter Houck chafed at convention. In the late 1950s, for example, he delighted in his mother’s outrage when the newly transplanted families of General Electric and Babcock and Wilcox employees began appearing on downtown streets without white gloves or hats, or worse, wearing shorts. The Houcks lived on Rivermont Avenue, an address that bespoke old money and privilege, so when Peter began dating Betsy Tweedy, whose family resided in the newer Fort Hill section of the city, Mrs. Houck’s eyebrows were raised

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James W. Wright is a graduate of E. C. Glass High School and the University of Virginia (BA and MD). He formerly practiced medicine in Lynchburg and is currently employed in the Medical Department at Genworth Financial. He and Marty have four children, one of whom, Bryan, wrote the cover story for the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Lynch’s Ferry. Dr. Wright’s article “Place, Pride, and Public Relations” appeared in the Fall/Winter 2013 edition.


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