Originally from nearby Moretown, Dr. William Mayo first opened a private medical practice in the village of Northfield, Vt., in 1877. He was only 23 years old and had just received his M.D. from the Homeopathic Medical College in New York City. These were the earliest years of medical education and professional practice as we think of them today; the American Medical Association was founded in 1847, and the Association of American Medical Colleges, which developed educational standards for its members, was formed in 1876.
Dr. Mayo built a successful medical career in Northfield and became one of its most prominent citizens. He eventually served as president of the Northfield Trust Company and owned the town’s four largest commercial buildings, making him Northfield’s largest individual taxpayer. Upon his death in 1930, the Dr. William B. Mayo Hospital Fund raised $500 from members of the public with the hope of someday honoring his legacy in Northfield by building a hospital in the town. Nine years later, that dream became a reality with the opening of the Mayo Memorial Hospital, which has evolved into the Mayo Healthcare residential home.
Dr. Mayo was also an engaged member of civic life from the time he began his practice in Northfield. He was elected to the state legislature representing the town no fewer than five times, the first when he was just 30 years old. He twice ran unsuccessfully for governor; his obituary attributed his lack of success to the impossibility of a Democrat being elected to the state’s highest office.
In addition to serving his local community, Dr. Mayo was an important advocate for Norwich University during his time at the State House. He helped to secure the university’s first-ever state funding in 1884, when financial support was critical to the university’s survival. He served as a trustee for an astounding 45 years, seeing the university through times of turmoil and dramatic change. He was granted an honorary degree in 1910 and is commemorated on one of the Centennial Stairs.
The Mayo family’s ties to Norwich University hardly ended with Dr. William Mayo’s death. His son Thomas was just ten years old when his father died, but he continued the family’s affiliation with the university and attended Norwich with the class of 1943. He was just a sophomore when he left to serve in the Air Force during World War II. He was flying in a raid on a German U-boat base when his B-17 was shot down over St. Nazaire, France. He was thought dead, and a memorial service was held for him here in Northfield. Days after the service, the Mayo family learned that Thomas was alive after all. After a joyful reunion, he went on to a successful career as an engineer and passed away under the care of Mayo Healthcare in 2010.