Looking Back: SMH nearing completion

Published 9:43 am Friday, April 19, 2013

by Clyde Parker

EDITOR’S NOTE: Looking Back features past articles from The Tidewater News with commentary by local historian Clyde Parker.

APRIL 19, 1963

Officials connected with the development and advancement of the new Southampton Memorial Hospital are realizing their dream — a new modern hospital with capability of adequately serving the health care needs of the citizens of Southampton County and Franklin.

We have told the story through previous editions of The Tidewater News. In summary, way back in the early to mid-1940’s, community people, including Dr. Rufus Raiford, who founded Raiford Hospital, believed the community needed a more modern and spacious hospital in order to adequately administer to the health care needs of Southampton County residents.

During the intervening years, while World War II was going on, and on up into the 1950’s, even though money was not immediately available, plans were being sketched out for future fund raising efforts. Community fund-raising campaigns were discussed. And, identification of other potential financial resources was being pursued. Franklin Charities, Inc., later to become known as the Camp Foundation, was formed as a major future resource for new hospital funding.

Starting in the late 1950’s and into the early 1960’s, plans for getting a new hospital were becoming more definitive. The idea became more realistic and gained traction.

A community fund raising campaign took place during the latter part of 1959 and into early 1960. Sol Rawls, Jr. headed the effort with Roger Drake as general solicitations chairman; Cecil Vaughan III as advanced gifts chairman; Joe King, Jr. as employee gifts chairman; and Joe Pope, Jr. as the County chairman. Lucy Day Beale headed up the downtown Franklin campaign office.

During the first phases of the community campaign, funding through provisions of the Hill-Burton Act, a federal program to help establish and upgrade hospitals, was identified. This was the thing that motivated organizers to make it happen. As Sol Rawls, Jr. said, “The Hill-Burton grant was a huge shot in the arm.”

As previously reported, at a meeting on April 4,1961, it was announced that the community campaign brought in $1,454,943. And, it was revealed that Hill-Burton funding was established at $1,360,535 (55% of the low bid of $2,473,700 submitted by the Harry B. Graham Co.) All told, funding for the new hospital came in at $2,815,478 – $341,778 above the contracted cost.

The old Stonewall Hotel was brimming with ecstatic campaign workers.

Ground was broken on April 25,1961. Construction took place over the next two years. During that time, there was a lot of adjustment and reorganization of the building design and layout.

“Red” Jones was designated as the on-the-scene Construction Superintendent; and, as such, served as the primary contact man for the building contractor. And, “Doc” Spivey represented the Hospital Board at the construction site.

Also, during the construction period, it was observed and reported that a certain after-hours visitor to the construction site was being seen, from time-to-time, throughout the entire property. Sometimes, this visitor was riding a horse. He would ride the horse down into the area where the hospital’s basement was to be, and then back out around the perimeter of the property — a part of the old Hillview farm. Sometimes, if the visitor and his horse were not actually seen, later evidence of their visit could be seen on the ground at the basement level. The visitor, of course, was Sol Rawls, Jr.

During a recent interview, Rawls, widely recognized as the absolute driving force behind getting a new hospital, said “We appreciate the generosity of all who gave of their time and effort to make organization of the new hospital concept and the community fund drive such a success.”

“The extra money raised will make it possible to obtain the best equipment for the new hospital, and it will provide a cushion in case of unexpected expense,” he added.

This brings us back to our time, here in April of 1963. As stated, construction is just about complete. Medical equipment and other furnishings are being installed.

Patients will be transferred next month.

With the exception of some minor adjustments and fine tuning, the hospital is complete. Equipment and furnishings are being installed.

The new medical office building for doctors is close to schedule.

A dedication ceremony will take place on Sunday, May 19,1963 at two thirty in the afternoon. The general public is invited. This is a community hospital. It is owned by the community. The guest speaker will be The Honorable Aibertis S. Harrison, Jr., Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is cpjeep99@yahoo.com.