Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Valerie Freidman McNown, M.D.

Valerie Freidman McNown, M.D.


Honored October, 1998

Valerie Freidman McNown, M.D.

For 25 years, “Dr. Val” was the only pediatrician from Pojoaque, New Mexico, to the Colorado border.  Along with Dr. Sam Ziegler (also honored as a Living Treasure 1998), she delivered and cared for nearly 5,000 babies.  She drastically reduced the infant mortality rate in Rio Arriba County until it was non-existent.  She said, “I am old-fashioned enough to still think a tongue depressor, an otoscope, and a stethoscope can get you started, that coupled with knowledge, your innate good sense, your ability to ask questions and listen, and your caring attitude will get you the love and respect of all who come in contact with you.  What else is there?”

Dr. McNown arrived in New Mexico, Christmas of 1948, on loan to Los Alamos Medical Center from a children’s hospital in Ohio and later opened her own practice in a renovated tumbledown house on the main road in Nambe.  When she first began practicing, visits were only $2 to $3, and often patients paid the fee in vegetables or fruit.  Doctors being scarce, she found herself making house calls on cattle as well!  Also during this time she traveled and worked at state run health clinics in Pojoaque, Chimayo, Truchas, Tierra Amarilla and Taos and at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe.  She was soon recruited by Dr. Sam Ziegler, who built Espanola’s first hospital, to join him in establishing a pediatric care unit in the Espanola Hospital.  Her hard work, dedication, and love of the people of this region kept her going at a furious clip for nearly 40 years until she retired in 1987 due to her first bout with cancer.  

Dr. McNown died on June 16, 2004.  In her obituary, which she wrote herself to friends and family, she said, “I have had the most wonderful, happy, rewarding and fulfilled 87 years.  Thank you for sharing them with me.”

Photo © 1998 by Steven Northup