"Dr. Carl just died," he said softly.
Dr. Carl Arnold, who was recruited to start a medical practice in Salem more than 60 years ago, retired in 2004, but remained "Dr. Carl" to just about everyone who knew him.
Arnold not only started a medical clinic in 1959, after two friends lured him to town for a fishing trip, he and Dr. David Ducker worked to establish a Fulton County Hospital, even donating the land it was built on.
Word of his death, after being rushed to the hospital, quickly circulated. In a hospital full of local residents and longtime employees, people cried openly at the loss of a friend.
"He was the creator (of the hospital)," said financial office manager Denice Innis. "He never lost interest in it and how it was doing."
"He wasn't feeling well last week," Norene Arnold, Arnold's wife of 54 years, told The News. "But, on Wednesday (Sept. 28), he was on the phone calling board members about the vote they were taking the next day."
With the hospital in severe financial trouble, the board met to consider a Baxter Regional Medical Center proposal to take over management.
It was just a short time after the board rejected the Baxter Regional offer that members learned of Arnold's death.
"He called the house yesterday (Sept. 28), but I was out fishing," said board member Jerry Blevins. "I went out to his house later in the day and had a good visit with him."
Board member Bill Pace said he returned a call from Arnold the same evening, and had a long talk that centered on the hospital's challenges and solutions.
"I just hope people remember how dedicated he was. He made house calls, when he first came here, and knew where all his patients lived," said Norene. "It seemed like he was always up in the middle of the night checking on a patient. If he didn't get the answers he wanted, he'd take off for the hospital."
Some of his friends laugh about how Dr. Arnold was a perfectionist, and had strong feelings on about any subject. Traits which meant friends, as well as foes, sometimes got a good lecture about their short comings or thinkings.
"He wasn't shy," said Innis smiling. "He'd let you know how he felt about things."
Besides being a doctor and worrying about the hospital, Dr. Arnold liked farming and fishing.
One young man, who worked for Arnold on his farm, called Arnold a demanding but caring boss, who always found time to insist the young man get serious about going back to school for an education that would lead to a better job.
Many also commented on Arnold's beloved collection of "stuff" -- the stash of old cars and trucks and farm machinery stored on his property, that he wouldn't dream of parting with.
But all discussions with Arnold's friends and loved ones seem to always return to the hospital.
"He felt responsible for the hospital, and never forgot how people here agreed to a tax to get the hospital started," said Norene. "He felt like people did it for him. To the end, he was worried about it. He did not want it to fail."
In Dr. Arnold's obituary, on page 4A, his family makes a suggestion to those who want to make a contribution in his honor.
"Memorials preferred to the Fulton County Hospital Building Fund." In a Letter to the Editor on page 2A, Norene promises contributions will go towards the hospital's debt.