Looking Back: Dedication marks facility’s opening

Published 10:19 am Friday, May 17, 2013

by Clyde Parker

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

May 17, 1963

Southampton Memorial Hospital will be dedicated on Sunday. It will soon replace Raiford Memorial Hospital. Governor Albertis Harrison, accompanied by Lt. Governor Mills Godwin, will be here to dedicate the new building. The occasion marks the official completion of the four-level, 110-bed medical center. The general public is invited and is expected to attend in large numbers.

Governor Harrison will be the primary speaker. We will also hear from Sol Rawls, Jr., Chairman of the Board and President of Raiford Memorial Hospital and Southampton Memorial Hospital; Dr. Kurt Hirsch, Chief of Staff for the practicing doctors at both hospitals; and Jesse Reel, Administrator for both hospitals.

“Essentially, a new “industry” has come to town, and it certainly enhances our community image and contributes greatly to the economic growth of our area,” Rawls said. “We will have new jobs.”

“And we, at the new hospital, will be spending quite a bit more money with local businesses. And, it goes without saying, the community will have greatly expanded health-care resources,” he added. In this connection, the Board of Directors of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce just released a formal resolution expressing their gratitude to the officers and directors of Southampton Memorial Hospital for bringing about a significant expansion of our local economy.

On Sunday, at the dedication and celebration, Southampton Memorial Hospital Administrator Jesse Reel will be the man behind the scenes. From the start of construction on Southampton to the present, he has worked quietly and simultaneously as Administrator for both Raiford and Southampton. He maintains two offices and divides his time between both places as work dictates.

For many weeks now, Reel’s office at Raiford has been a “beehive of activity”, as he put it, as plans for the dedication at Southampton are being finalized. “There have been a multitude of last minute details that have needed our attention,” he said.

Another person at Raiford has been extremely busy. As secretary to Reel, Ida Burgess, has been, and still is, right down in the middle of everything that is going on.

Even though construction on the new hospital is essentially complete, there is still much other work to be done. “For one thing, the hospital is still $100,000 behind in pledges,” Rawls said. “We must catch-up on that.” “And there is still a lot of equipment to be installed and checked to see that it is working properly. A certain amount of equipment, now at Raiford, will also have to be moved to the new building.”

One of the biggest jobs is yet to come — that of moving patients from Raiford to Southampton. Present plans are to move them sometime around the middle of June, according to Reel. “We are now preparing patient rooms; and, as we speak, furnishings and supplies are being moved in and placed.”

The new medical office building has been completed. Most of the doctors have relocated there.

In the meantime, the Board of Directors, in a meeting last week, authorized Rawls to negotiate sale of the old Raiford Memorial Hospital property. Located on Main Street in downtown Franklin, the old hospital is housed in a building that was originally the Virginia Hotel — built in 1880.

A stipulation of the sale is the buyer must tear down the old building and replace it with a new retail or other commercial structure.

Rawls came up with an idea. He contacted officials of Rose’s Stores, Inc. at their Henderson, NC headquarters and asked them to buy the Raiford property, tear down the old building, and build a new, larger, and more modern store on the site. The new structure would replace the store that they currently have at the southeastern corner of Main Street and Third Avenue.

“A tentative agreement has been reached,” Rawls replied in response to a recent inquiry.

Already, several community leaders and hospital officials are having thoughts and discussions concerning the possibility of building a nursing home on the Southampton Memorial Hospital property. Space is available for such a facility and it could possibly connect with the hospital.

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.