"You new in town?"

It's a question that - for better or worse - I'm pretty used to. You see, I'm the bookkeeper for a company that comes into towns who need a hand moving forward. We renovate and re-tool old factories to bring them up to new standards. We're usually around for a couple of years and then we move on.

I've seen all kinds of towns in my job. Some are proud towns who cling to the past and resent our presence, and some more open and welcoming. I was pleased when I found that Ballarat fit in the latter category. Everyone I have met so far has been very friendly and full of helpful advice.

"Haircut? Two blocks over. Best haircut in town.

"If you're looking for a good solid meal try Wooten's Diner."

I took note of every suggestion and then would ask, "Can you recommend a good doctor?"

"Oh, Doctor Blake."

"You'll want to call Dr. Blake."

"Everyone in my family goes to Dr. Blake."

It seemed it was nearly unanimous that Doctor Blake was the best doctor the town had ever seen. One morning, standing in the checkout line at the market I got quite an earful:

"Kind"

"Great listener"

"Knows what's what"

"Puts you at ease"

The checker said, "One thing, though, Dr. Blake is a little older - came to doctoring kind of late, you know."

And then, from the woman behind me, "Mm-Hmm. Lots of people would have just given after losing the love of their life like that, and it was really bad for a while. But you know sometimes moving on is what makes you better."

"And you won't find anyone better than our Dr. Blake!"

I was intrigued, to say the least.

When I got home I called the number I had been given the phone was answered by a bright, cheery voice. "Doctor Blake's Surgery" she sang out.

After a brief, friendly conversation, she had gotten all the information she needed, and I had my appointment set

"Wonderful!" she said "We'll see you next week."

"Well, that was easy." I said out loud. The thought went through my head that if the "Amazing Doctor Blake's" receptionist was any indication, I might have just made a good decision.

When I arrived the next week at the surgery, I was greeted by the owner of that bright friendly voice. She was an attractive woman, but what drew me in were her eyes - lively and expressive. And they gave the impression that they didn't miss much.

I shook her outstretched hand. "Good afternoon. I have an appointment to see Dr. Blake."

"That would be me - Dr. Jean Blake. It's very nice to meet you."

She obviously noticed my confusion and gave a little laugh. "No one told you the 'doctor' was a woman."

I could only manage to shake my head.

"There aren't many of us around, but I think that's starting to change."

As we made our way to her office she continued, "Becoming a doctor never even seemed like a possibility for most of my life, but my husband helped me to see that I had a talent for Chemistry. And I have always felt that I had a gift for helping people. After…after he…died, I felt the best way to honor his memory would be to carry on his work.

"It wasn't always easy - going to college and medical school so late in life, but my sons were very supportive, and my friend, Dr. Alice Lawson, has been an invaluable mentor. The people of Ballarat have trusted me with their health and care. I have never regretted the decision."

She gave an embarrassed chuckle. "Goodness! Enough about me. Let's have a seat and let me get to know about you."

Her young housekeeper brought in a pot of tea and set it in front of the doctor. Over a cuppa and some friendly, interested conversation, I realized she had gotten a thorough medical history, and probably some good insight on my present health and well-being. We moved to the exam table for all the normal checks: blood pressure, temperature, eyes, ears, lungs, heart. If I had had any qualms about seeing a "lady doctor" she put those to rest with her compassionate professional manner. Dr. Blake declared that I was in fine health, but recommended I eat more fresh vegetables and get a little exercise. She also gave me a number to call about a small garage apartment that had just become available.

As I drove back to the hotel, I had to laugh at myself a little. I've always been so proud that my job helps bring sleepy little old towns into the future. But Dr. Jean Blake and her Ballarat had shaken me awake today. With her old-fashioned hospitality and manners, and her modern knowledge and courage, this woman had gained the trust and loyalty of the people in her hometown. And together they have embraced the promise of a brighter future for them all.