Looking back: Gov. Harrison dedicates hospital

Published 10:35 am Friday, May 31, 2013

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

May 31, 1963

After the tremendous celebration of the completion and dedication of the new Southampton Memorial Hospital last week, things are settling down a little bit now. Plans of action are being developed for fitting out, furnishing, and getting the new hospital functional; and, at the same time, strategies are being organized to shut down the old Raiford Memorial Hospital.

For the dedication and open house last week, they came by the thousands from Franklin, Southampton, Isle of Wight, and beyond, to inspect Southampton Memorial Hospital and to hear Governor Albertis Harrison. The occasion marks the official completion of the four-level, 110 bed medical center.

After a half-hour of ceremonies and speeches by Sol Rawls, Jr., Chairman of the Board and President; Dr. Kurt Hirsch, Chief of the Medical Staff; and the Governor, the crowds flowed through the wide doors and were conducted on tours through-out the hospital by members of the hospital auxiliary.

They rode in the new super-quiet elevators. They inspected the building from the kitchen in the basement to the nursery and delivery rooms on the third floor.

They opened doors, peeked in the board of directors meeting room, milled around in the lobby, and stepped into the chapel. They looked in on patient rooms and marveled at the electrified beds which raise and lower at the flip of a switch.

They were fascinated with the Second Floor Surgical Suite.

They wondered at the latest equipment in the physical therapy department, were amazed at the brightness of the stainless steel equipment in the sterilizing room, and poked their fingers at the glass doors which protect the oxygen outlets throughout the building.

Randolph Fowler, Director of Laundry Services, showed off the new fireproof laundry facility which will turn out as much as 1,500 pounds of sheets, blankets and uniforms per day. The laundry room itself will be connected to a huge chute which will serve all three upper floors.

They met Governor Harrison and his party coming and going. The Governor and Lt. Governor Mills Godwin were conducted on a personal tour by Mr. and Mrs. Sol Rawls, Jr. Most of the time, to get around the crowds, the Governor walked up and down stairs at both ends of the building.

As the Governor proceeded through the hallways and into the various departments, he paused to talk with nurses and other hospital personnel who were stationed there. He stopped and shook hands with the dietician, spoke to a nurse’s aid in the autoclave room, and chatted with a nurse in the nursery.

He was stopped in a hallway by a child who wanted his autograph. Many elderly women just wanted to meet the Governor and say hello.

During the dedication ceremony, Governor Harrison mixed praise for the community and its accomplishment in getting such an outstanding medical facility with statements pointing to Virginia’s strong economy. “Our Commonwealth is growing and can support not only schools and cultural things but also first-rate hospitals,” he said.

The crowd, estimated at about 3,000 by Franklin Police Chief Willie Burrow, also heard Rawls speak. “We are looking forward to a new era of medical services for the communities that will be served by Southampton Memorial Hospital,” he said.

During his comments, Dr. Hirsch talked about the hospital’s mission. “We are now entering a new phase of medical service for our community. “The general health of our people will improve.”

Absent from the scene during the dedication were the patients. They are still at Raiford. They are due to be moved into the new Southampton Memorial Hospital on June 12, according to Jesse Reel, Hospital Administrator. “For the most part, patients will eat breakfast in Raiford Memorial Hospital and have lunch at Southampton Memorial Hospital,” he said.

(The last several “Looking Back” columns have been devoted to the history of Raiford Memorial Hospital and the advancement and establishment of Southampton Memorial Hospital. In doing so, I wrote as if we were in the year 1963, telling about what was going on in that year, and also reflecting as far back in time as the origins and history of Raiford would take us – basically, the year 1919.

In our next column, we will be in the present day – the year 2013 – reflecting back over the past 50 years, from the completion and dedication of Southampton Memorial Hospital in 1963 up to the present. We are doing this in order to more completely tell the Southampton Memorial Hospital story.)

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.