May 12, 2010

Dr. William Harrison Coffey (1862 KY - 1948 MO)

Wm. Harrison & Virginia Ringo Coffey
Dr. William Harrison Coffey was a medical doctor descending from Dr. Richard Nightingale Coffey, himself the father of two physicians, through his son, Dr. William A. Coffey, also the father of two physicians including Dr. Richard Nightingale Coffey.

Dr. William Harrison Coffey was also the father of a physician, Dr. Ralph Ringo Coffey.  Dr. Richard Nightingale Coffey was also the father of two physicians, Dr. George McDowell Coffey, DDS and Dr. Erval Richard Coffey, MD.

The following mini-biography was prepared by Edward L, Stewart for the Jackson County [MO] Medical Society Weekly Bulletin, Vol. XXIII, No. 31, Aug. 5, 1939, and is through the courtesy of Marty Johnson, a granddaughter of Dr. Ralph Ringo Coffey.

William H. Coffey, born in Madison County, Kentucky, October 12, 1862, was one of five children.  His brother James, a commercial traveler, died several years ago, and Richard N. was a physician.  He graduated from the University Medical College, Kansas City, and practiced there until the time of his death in 1932.  The third brother, Edward McDowell, now living at Grain Valley, Missouri, was formerly chief of the Kansas City Fire Department.  His only sister, Elizabeth, who married Milton Wyatt of Kansas City, is deceased.

Dr. Coffey's father was Dr. William A. Coffey, who practiced medicine in Madison County, Kentucky, many years.  He died there when William was twelve years old.  As his mother had died two years previously, the five children were left orphans.  They remained in Kentucky three years and then came to Missouri.  Their father had a brother, Dr. Edward Coffey, who was then practicing medicine in Platte City.  All but William lived with their uncle.  William obtained work on various farms about Platte City, and saved his money to attend William Jewell College.  For three or four years thereafter, he taught school in various districts about that city, spending his spare moments reading medicine in his uncle's office.  He later entered the Missouri Medical College at St. Louis from which he graduated in 1886.  The same year he moved to Parkville, where he opened his office, doing general practice and also serving as local surgeon for the Burlington Railroad.

On July 26, 1889, he married Miss Virginia Ringo, daughter of Dr. J. W. Ringo of Parkville.  Dr. Coffey continued his practice in Parkville until 1900.  Here their two children were born:  Ralph R. Coffey, now a physician with officers in the Professional Building, and E. R. Coffey, a well known business man in Kansas City.  In 1900 the Coffeys moved to Kansas City buying a hime at 500 Bellefontaine, which was at that time a desirable residential district.

Dr. Coffey lived in and practiced his profession in Kansas Cith for 25 years.  He did general practice, specializing in Proctology, and was quite successful.  He was Professor of Proctology in the Medico-Chirurgical College and after the school was absorbed by the University of Kansas, served the latter institution as Clinical Director of the Dispensary.  He was chief of the Proctology Department of the General Hospital when it was first established.  He wrote many papers on surgical subjects, some of which were published in medical journals.  He also tried his hand at politics during his earlier days in Kansas City.  He was Police Surgeon of the city in 1903-04 and Coroner of Jackson County in 1917-20.  He is an honorary member of the J. C. M. S. and a member of the Independence Boulevard Christian Church of which he is a member of the board of Deacons.  He belongs to the Masonic Temple Lodge No. 299, Orient Chapter R. A. M. No. 102, Oriental Commandery No. 35 and Ararat Shrine.

After practicing medicine and surgery in Kansas City for a quarter of a century, the doctor and his wife looked longingly toward the scenes of their early life.  They bought a large farm, about 200 acres, one mile east of Parkville, and built thereon a magnificient, large stone house, high on a knoll from which you can see six counties - three in Missouri and three in Kansas.  They named their home "Dream Haven."  Here they live today.

Dr. Coffey is not practicing medicine today, but he has not retired.  To him life has but one beginning and one retirement.  He goes about his beautiful vine-covered home, "Dream Haven," doing just what interests him most.  He is always busy carrying out his heart's desire.  When the weather is bad, or when he just naturally feels inclined, he goes up to his study and writes on his latest book.  It is the Doctor's custom to write and publish a short story at Christmas time and send copies to his many friends in lieu of Christmas cards.  This, his hobby, he has done for last 14 years.

He was born and lived the early years of his life in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky.  He knows the simple people who live there and many of his stories have a Kentucky mountain setting.  Then too, there is usually a physician playing a leading role in the story.  His father was a physician there and he knows just what a mountaineer physician must be to hold the love and high esteem of the mountain folk.

On July 26, Doctor and Mrs. Coffey celebrated their 50th year of happy married live.  They have lived their lives of love and service to mankind and to each other and are today reaping their golden reward.  The Doctor is not really old - only in his seventies - and be it again understood he has not retired - just going about "Dream Haven," watching the birds, the trees in his yard, tending the flowers and writing stories.

To his happy couple we can only say:  Congratulations, and may you live happily together, as you live today, for many years to come.

Obituary(s) for Dr. W. H. Coffey
Dr. William Harrison Coffey died on Mar. 25, 1948 in Kansas City.  He and his wife Virginia Ringo Coffey are buried there at Mount Moriah Cemetery.  Dr. Coffey's will was probated in Jackson Co. on May 9, 1949.

Photo and obituary also contributed by  Marty Johnson

No. 985


  1. Marty Johnson11:58 AM


    Virginia, "Jennie" Coffey is buried next to her husband, William H. Coffey in Mount Moriah cemetery, Kansas City, Missouri. Also in the family plot are Ralph Ringo Coffey (their son) and Ara Saunders Coffey (Ralph's 3rd wife).

  2. Thanks Marty! I'll add all this new info to the file.

  3. As the archivist/historian at Truman Medical Center where Wiliam Harrison Coffey and his son served when it was knows as K.C. General Hospital, I am curious to know if his father, William A. Coffey. who served in the Kentucky Calvary in the Civil War, served as a medic or physician?

    I would appreciate a reply.

  4. According to The Patriots and Guerillas of East Tennessee and Kentucky, The Sufferings of the Patriots, a book by Major J. A. Brents and published in NY by J. A. Brents, 1863,

    “Major William A. Coffey…is a physician, and resides in Madison county, Ky. He was very energetic in raising troops for the regiment, recruiting two companies in Madison county. He is a man of find sense; very prepossessing, and presents a fine military appearance. He had the command of a squadron of cavalry at Somerset for some time before the battle of Mill Springs, and rendered important service, as his force was the only cavalry at that point, while the rebels had quite a large body. He was taken a prisoner with Major Helveti at Cave City, but was paroled that he might proceed to Washington and effect the exchange of Lieutenant Colonel Wood, who was taken at Lebanon, for himself. As he was unsuccessful, he proceeded to Tennessee and surrendered to the rebel authorities. He is a married man, and I believe served a campaign in Mexico.”

    It would seem that he served neither as a medic nor a physician, but as commander “of a squadron of cavalry.” That having been said however, he is listed in the 1860 Madison Co., KY census as a “Practice MD.” I’m not certain if that means he was practicing medicine or, if he was practicing to be an MD. This is the only time that I have seen those exact words to describe the occupation. Typically, the word physician is used.

  5. Marty Johnson1:13 PM


    It was my understanding from my grandfather (Ralph R. Coffey) that he was "from a long line of physicians" and he implied that he believed that his grandfather (William A.) was also a physician. From my research, he appears in several census as "physician."

    Also am wondering if you or anyone has any information on James "Y." Coffey, a brother of William Harrison Coffey??

  6. James Y. Coffey was a son of Dr. William A. and Elizabeth Hill Coffey and a brother to Dr. Wm. Harrison Coffey as well as Dr. Richard Nightingale Coffey. He was born on Sep. 15, 1859 in Madison Co., KY* but, I know nothing more about him.

    *Name: James Y. Coffey Gender: Male Baptism/Christening Date: Baptism/Christening Place: Birth Date: 15 Sep 1859 Birthplace: Kentucky Death Date: Name Note: Race: Father's Name: William A. Coffey Father's Birthplace: Father's Age: Mother's Name: Bettie Hill Mother's Birthplace: Mother's Age: Indexing Project (Batch) Number: C51769-1 System Origin: Kentucky-EASy Source Film Number: 216833 Reference Number: 2:XFM2K1

  7. I have a copy of Dr Coffey's book, A Missouri Valley Story. It's inscribed on the front page, obviously signed by the author to a fellow doctor and dated 1910. It's in very good condition. I very much enjoyed reading it when I found it today and wanted to let someone know.

    1. I am Dr. William H. coffey's great granddaughter and have most of his Christmas books that he wrote but do not have this one. Would it be possible for me to obtain a copy of it from you? Please respond to if possible.

  8. Thanks for writing Kristie! Perhaps you'd be willing to share any heretofore unknown genealogical info you might find in Dr. Coffey's book.


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