Admired Doctor’s Generosity Aids Aspiring Engineers

Passion for education, love for granddaughter inspire estate gift to UM

Dr. Carl Bernet is pictured with his longtime assistant and nurse, Thelma Hester. Photo courtesy Greenwood Commonwealth

OXFORD, Miss. – Seeing the impact a scholarship made on his granddaughter’s education inspired a longtime pediatrician to bequeath part of his estate to the University of Mississippi School of Engineering.

A $100,000 gift from the estate of the late Dr. Carl P. Bernet Jr., of Greenwood, has bolstered the Elsie and Harper Johnson Jr. Scholarship Endowment, which provides academic awards to engineering students from Leflore and Tate counties.

Bernet’s youngest grandchild, Ole Miss junior Taylor Bush, is a recipient of the scholarship.

“Dr. Bernet was a very compassionate and charitable man, as was his wife, Janet,” said Floyd Melton III, the Greenwood attorney for Bernet’s estate.

“He directly saw the benefit of the scholarship for our small community and wanted to show his appreciation for the Johnsons’ generosity and to further ensure that future students from this area are allowed to reach their goal of becoming engineers.”

A native of Cincinnati, Bernet received his medical degree in 1950 from the University of Cincinnati Medical School and interned at the University of Indiana. He completed his pediatric training in New Orleans and worked in several small towns for Charity Hospital of New Orleans before being recruited to work for the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

During his time with the CDC, Bernet was one of the first investigators to study germ warfare after World War II, working both in Atlanta and in Denver. Additionally, for a time, he performed research alongside Dr. Jonas Salk, inventor of the polio vaccine.

In 1955, he moved to Greenwood.

“Daddy knew he wanted to live in a small town in the South so he could practice pediatrics and play golf, and he let Mother decide which town they would call home,” said Nan Bernet Bush, of Greenwood.

Bernet cared for Greenwood-area children for more than five decades, retiring in 2010.

“He only retired to take care of Mother,” Bush said. “In fact, many of his patients still called him with questions up until his death in May 2018.”

Additionally, during the 1960s and ’70s, Bernet taught one day a month at the UM School of Medicine in Jackson.

“Here is a man and his wife who literally cared for people each and every day of their lives and absolutely loved it,” Melton said. “He saved many of those individuals by diagnosing and treating a deadly disease or putting into place a system that has and will continue to save all of us.

“His gift to the university is just one way that he and Janet will be able to continue to care for people and make the world a better place forever.”

Dr. Carl Bernet

Bernet was a member of St. John’s United Methodist Church, where he served on numerous committees. Besides being an avid golfer, he loved to fish, bowl, read and work in his yard.

The Bernets had two sons and two daughters – Chris Bernet, of Oxford; Carl Philip Bernet III, of Chapel Hill, Texas; Beth Bernet Hays, of Madison; and Nan Bernet Bush – nine grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Chris and his daughter, Callie Bernet Moser, graduated from Ole Miss and Nan attended for three years.

“Daddy was very modest about himself and would rather joke about all he had seen and done,” said Bush, adding that she often saw her father diagnose a child’s illness even before running the first test. “After treating kids for about a 50-mile radius of Greenwood for 55 years – often three generations – he became a most respected and admired doctor for the Mississippi Delta.”

A testament to such admiration is the fourth floor children’s wing of Greenwood Leflore Hospital, named in Bernet’s honor.

“As far as I and most of this community are concerned, he is the best pediatrician ever,” said Melton, who was among the doctor’s many patients and later took his own children to Bernet for health care.

“It was very comforting to know that if you had a sick child, you could just show up at his office at 8 a.m. any day of the week and he would take care of you. And after he did, he always gave you a Dum-Dum sucker to make you feel better.”

Bernet’s estate gift awards him posthumous membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university opened to its first students. The society recognizes generous alumni and friends who provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.

“On behalf of the School of Engineering, we are very grateful to Dr. Bernet for his foresight in providing such a generous gift in support of higher education,” Dean Dave Puleo said. “Dr. Bernet shares our vision to create a path to success for all students who want to serve their communities through the field of engineering.”

The Elsie and Harper Johnson Jr. Scholarship Endowment is open to gifts from corporations and individuals. For more information on supporting the Ole Miss School of Engineering, contact Greg Carter at 662-915-3087 or To make a gift, click here.

For information on including Ole Miss in your estate, contact Byron Liles, senior director of gift planning, at 662-915-7601 or