HAPPILY MELDING MARRIAGE, MEDICINE & MUSIC
If you’re looking for a prescription for wedded bliss, you might just ask Drs. Debbie McNabb and Graham Hall. While publicly these two very creative, caring and accomplished people have excelled professionally as highly trained, trusted and much-loved medical practitioners, it’s their connection on a private level that many find so laudable. After 32 years in tandem as devoted husband and wife, this diverse yet compatible pair continues to demonstrate that the best medicine for a happy marriage is the joint acceptance and encouragement of the individual passions and dreams of one another, supported always by a healthy dose of mutual respect. Say ash!
While Debbie hails from North Texas, Graham is a born-and-bred ‘09er. It was the University of Texas at Austin that brought the two together back in the 1970s. Debbie (a buttoned-down doctor’s daughter) was already taking pre-med courses at UT when the more free-spirited Graham, after a stint in the U. S. Army, enrolled at the Austin campus. And while there, thanks to an exceptional history teacher who believed strongly in community involvement, the duo ended up serendipitously meeting while participating in an off-campus program called Big Buddies, where volunteers were enlisted to work with mentally challenged children. Love blossomed shortly thereafter.
As Graham remembers, “I was obviously attracted to her because she was pretty, and if she was involved with Big Buddies, then she had to have a good heart.” For Debbie, it was equally simple: “He was very handsome, wonderful with kids, older than average and (more on this later) even played in a great band.” For two future medicos, it was pure chemistry!
As Debbie’s studies progressed at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Graham, who continued making music with his band (see sidebar), wrapped up his liberal arts degree at UT. A long-distance but committed relationship ensued during this time of learning because, after graduation, and fueled by his love of animals, Graham next headed off to Texas A&M with the idea of taking additional coursework that would allow him to become a veterinary doctor. However, after auditing a couple of Debbie’s Baylor classes, he quickly shifted his focus to the study of traditional medicine. As he recalls, “The students were so excited about what they were doing, it was contagious. I realized that I wanted to care for people.”
Debbie was totally on board with that decision, and at A&M Graham completed his science prerequisites, then went on to finish his demanding classroom and residency work in pediatrics in San Antonio at UTHSCSA. By this time Debbie was also back in the Alamo City, completing her residency requirements as an OB/GYN at the UT Health Science Center. Most important, they were together again, and in 1979 the new doctors married in an admittedly “hippie” ceremony back where they first met in Austin.
Professionally, over the course of three decades, the two have justifiably established themselves as respected and competent physicians within the medical community and, more importantly, with their many appreciative patients. Before an arthritis-induced retirement, Debbie offered expert treatment and advice to the adult female market, while Graham endeared himself as the beloved “first doctor” to countless ‘09 children – a role he still fulfills today. For Debbie, thanks to new treatments for arthritis and with Graham’s wholehearted support, she will be heading back to academia. She was recently accepted for a master’s program in medical humanities at the University of Texas Medical School in Galveston and hopes to teach bioethics afterward in an exciting multidisciplinary fashion.
As homebodies and away from their individual practices and pursuits, Debbie and Graham enjoy almost typically suburban lives. They’ve lived in the ZIP as husband and wife for the past 30 years, first on Terra Alta Street and now, slightly downsized, in a comfy home in the Northwood/Oak Park area. With both kids grown and on their own (Kate, 26, is emulating mom and dad and starting medical school at the University of Mississippi; Trevor, 23, is finishing a music education degree at Texas Tech and will soon start a job as an assistant middle school band director in Lubbock), these empty-nesters find domesticity a pleasure. Outdoorsy Graham is the yardman and gardener. The more practical Debbie tackles the cooking, shopping and — because Graham stinks at it — the dishwashing too. The rest they happily share, even the feeding of Graham’s impressive collection of snakes, lizards and tortoises. Say what?
Yep, a visit to the Hall house (or Graham’s office for that matter, which delights his young clientele) can be an adventure. As Debbie attests, “Graham, in many ways, is still a 9-year-old boy.” Since childhood, the precocious youngster was and still is famous for catching and keeping wild things, especially reptiles. Collared lizards, horn-nose snakes, giant tortoises and other crawling, hissing and slithering life forms all thrive in backyard cages amid stunning succulent cacti that provide visual beauty along with a nutritious bounty for the wild things. So while Debbie is OK with his hobby, just what do the neighbors think?
Anyway, that’s just a little more of what makes their marriage so workable, special and successful. Each participant is encouraged to pursue his or her own unique interests, be that snake hunting or becoming a medical bioethicist. Thanks to this exceptional tolerance and understanding, their prognosis as a loving team remains excellent.
As was mentioned, the fact that Graham was “in a band” attracted Debbie early on. Before medicine entered the picture, Graham literally picked up the banjo and became very accomplished with the instrument. With a love to perform, he participated in a number of well- received groups during his college years – most notably, Eaglebone Whistle of bluegrass and Irish music fame. Twice they performed to thunderous applause at the Kerrville Folk Festival with a proud Debbie supporting from the audience. More recently, the gifted pediatrician has moved on to the violin, winning multiple “fiddling” contests. Currently, you can catch his act monthly at the popular Twin Sisters restaurant on New Braunfels Avenue. As he readily admits, “Music — after Debbie, the kids and maybe my snakes — is what keeps this doctor in the pink!”