James McCord is one of the most remarkable men to have won the
Durban championship. His name lives on today at McCord's Hospital
which was founded by Doctor McCord in 1909. I am indebted to his
book "My Patients Were Zulus" for many of the medical details that
follow, as well as certain snippets about life in early Durban.
In between running the hospital he also found time for chess, and he was Durban champion on four occasions, namely 1915, 1916, 1926, and finally in 1934, at the age of 64. He remains the oldest man to have won the title, several years older than Keith Rust, who last won at age 60.
McCord played in the South African championships on four occasions. The 1924 and 1939 championships were held in Durban, whilst the 1926 and 1935 events were held in Johannesburg.
McCord caused a sensation in the 1924 event, defeating the favourites Blieden and Chavkin in the first two rounds, but a couple of losses followed and in the end McCord finished second, just half a point behind the winner Chavkin.
In 1926 McCord finished 7th and his results in 1935 and 1939 were even more disappointing.
McCord was born in Illinois (USA) in 1870. The first mention I can
find of him is as a young student at Oberlin College in Ohio, where
he was a member of their inaugural American football team in 1891.
In 1894 he married Margaret Mellen after completing his studies at
the Chicago medical school, and set up practice in Iowa. He was very
interested in Africa, and his wife Margaret was in fact born in
Zululand, so he always wanted to be a medical missionary.
His opportunity came in 1899 when the American Mission Board was looking for a doctor. The McCord family sailed from Boston in October 1899 (just as the Boer War started) and arrived safely in Durban, where they travelled by ox wagon to the Adams Mission near Amanzimtoti. Dr McCord was employed by the Mission Board to treat African patients only, and this caused a number of difficulties over the years.
Adams Mission was an isolated place, and in March 1904 the McCords bought a house at 76 Montpelier Road, where the coal shed served as a makeshift ward until something more suitable could be acquired! At the time Durban had 3 train lines, making it much more accessible to patients. During 1905 a new dispensary was built in Beatrice Street, which served as the mission headquarters until the 1940's.
McCord's dream was always to have a Zulu hospital, and he bought the land where the hospital currently stands in 1906. McCord overcame vigorous opposition from the White community and the "Mission Nursing Home" was opened in May 1909.
McCord served as a Captain in the Medical Corps of the British Army from 1908 to 1917, before transferring to the US Army Medical Corps. Then in 1918 McCord met Dr Alan Taylor and persuaded him to become a medical missionary too. In 1922 McCord was able to place Dr Taylor in charge of the hospital whilst he ran the dispensary.
In the depression years (1930-1932) the Mission Board could no longer afford to pay the salaries of McCord and Taylor. Things looked bleak, but the Durban business community were now fully supportive of the hospital, and a local Board of Management was formed, which took over reponsibility for financial support of the hospital and fund raising. The new Taylor wing of the hospital was built in 1937.
Dr McCord reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 in 1940 and he returned to America in August of that year. As a farewell gift the Durban Chess Club presented him with a giant Rook, made by an expert carver. That is the only reference he makes to chess in his book!
Postscript: For more stories about Dr McCord, I highly recommend the book "The Calling of Katie Makanya" which won the Alan Paton prize for non-fiction.
As already mentioned, Dr McCord started the 1924 South African championship with an
upset win over the eventual SA champion, Alexander Chavkin. I also found another
win of his, from the last round, in the "Natal Mercury" for August 1924: