LOOKING BACK: Dr. Rufus L. Raiford – father of Raiford Memorial Hospital

Published 9:00 am Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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Dr. Rufus L. Raiford is considered the father of the old Raiford Memorial Hospital — the forerunner of Southampton Memorial Hospital. Rufus Raiford was born in the Corinth Community of Southampton County, on Nov. 17, 1880. He received his medical degree in 1906 from the University College of Medicine (Medical College of Virginia) in Richmond.

Dr. Raiford established his medical practice out of his home in Corinth. Since there were no nearby medical facilities, he made house calls. He started with a horse and buggy.

To save precious time, he purchased a motorcycle. Later, his purchase of a Ford Model T allowed better access to his patients.

Early on, Dr. Raiford had been thinking about training as an eye, ear, nose, and throat specialist in some “city”; instead, he took a step that ultimately reversed his plans and formed the embryo of the first hospital in Southampton County. In 1910, Dr. and Mrs. Raiford moved from Corinth to Sedley. In 1919, they built a new house across the street from their first residence and established the “Raiford Clinic” — in that house. 

The clinic consisted of two examination rooms, an operating area, and a drug room – on the house’s first floor; five rooms on the second floor were designated for patient care.

His staff consisted of Nurse Beulah Nance (Mrs. Ruel Blythe} and Eunice Spivey.

Dr. Raiford’s wife, the former Lora Katherine Burgess, was an invaluable aide to him in the medical and administrative areas.

In 1924, in response to the increased patient load in Franklin, he established a clinic there by renting three rooms in the old vacant Virginia Hotel building located on the northwest corner of Main Street and Second Avenue.

In 1929, patient volume and the need for more space prompted Dr. Raiford to take over the entire old hotel building, which was remodeled and equipped to take on the appearance of a small hospital. The clinic and the building were then named Raiford Hospital, an eighty-bed facility with a staff of six physicians, nearly seventy employees, and numerous nurses.

(Incidentally, C. C. Blythe, Sr. contracted with Raiford Hospital to provide laundry services. That early association, during the depression years, eventually spawned a new Franklin business that lasted for many decades: Blythe Dry Cleaners & Laundry, on Mechanic Street.)

As time passed, from the 1930s – well into the onset of World War II, community people were beginning to expect even better health care services. Dr. Raiford, who was the hospital’s director, was among those who felt that a more modern hospital was needed.

In 1943, Franklin Charities. Inc., a forerunner to the Camp Foundation, was created to address various community needs, including funding for a new hospital.

But, because of World War II, the new hospital movement became dormant for a few years. Still, during those years, Camp Manufacturing Co., Chesapeake-Camp Corp. W.H. Scott, inc. Taggart Corp. and other local businesses, organizations, and individuals kept putting money into the Franklin Charities Fund. Since the war was going on, it was thought that community fund-raising would have to take place during better economic times. “Too, during that time, the community was not able to get federal funds for a NEW hospital,” said Sol Rawls Jr. in a later interview (he was in the U. S. Army back then).

“However, federal funds through the provisions of the ‘Lanham Act’ were available to enlarge and upgrade existing medical facilities,” Rawls added. A grant request was submitted to the Federal Works Agency. In accordance with grant requirements, hospital ownership was transferred from private to community. Guidance was placed in the hands of a board of directors made up of Southampton County people; Dr. Raiford was elected chairman. In 1944, the grant request was approved, and more money was raised locally; and, in 1945, construction work was completed.

Getting back to Sol Rawls Jr., when the war was over in 1945, he returned to Franklin and led a renewed and stepped-up effort for a “brand-new” hospital- promoting the idea and getting financial support lined up. This went on for a few years.

Dr. Raiford died on June 25, 1948. At that time. The old hospital was renamed Raiford Memorial Hospital.

In the early 1950s. Rawls was appointed to the Raiford Memorial Hospital board. Soon after that, he was elected president; Dr. J. C. Rawls, Sol’s uncle, and G. H. (Hap) Pillow, a Franklin real estate and insurance executive, was instrumental in planning for an entirely new hospital building.

Planning and fund-raising went on for many more years. In December 1957, a certificate of incorporation was issued to Southampton Memorial Hospital Corporation. A new hospital location was needed. Soon, in response, Rena Camp Rawls, with her husband Sol Waite Rawls Sr., came forth and donated twenty-five acres on the lower part of their Hillview Farm.

In 1959, in response to the need for a more concerted and stepped-up effort to raise the funds necessary, a campaign committee was formed under the leadership of Chairman Sol Rawls Jr. Roger W. Drake was named general solicitations chairman, Cecil Vaughan III headed up the advanced gifts campaign, Joe King Jr. ran the employee gift campaign, and Joe Pope Jr. ran the Southampton County campaign. A board of directors was established with representation from all sections of Southampton County. Sol Rawls Jr. was elected chairman of the board and president. F. E. Pope of Drewryville and Winder Lane of Franklin were elected to the two vice presidential positions.

From 1959 through 1961, fund-raising took place in many forms – the goal was $2,500,000. In 1959, notice was received that Hill-Burton Act funding at a rate of 55% of the hospital’s contracted cost was approved. The community campaign announced that it had raised $1,454,943.

Ground was broken on April 25, 1961, with construction from 1961 to 1963. A dedication ceremony for the new hospital – Southampton Memorial Hospital (SMH) – was held on May 19, 1963, with Governor Albertis S. Harrison as the guest speaker. Sol Rawls Jr. was recognized as the absolute driving force behind bringing modern-day hospital care to the Southampton County community.

From 1963 to 2000, a succession of administrators/CEOs were employed to direct the new hospital, including Jesse Reel, Gerald DeHaven, and Edward Patnesky. In the year 2000, SMH (which had always been a community-owned non-profit hospital) was purchased by Community Health Systems (CHS) based in Brentwood, Tennessee (a for-profit Hospital system).

For a period of time, a succession of administrators/CEOs from other CHS locations managed SMH.

In 2014, Kim Marks (a long-term administrator at SMH) was appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer.

On January 1, 2020, SMH became affiliated with Bon Secours /Mercy Health (a not-for-profit organization); then, Kim Marks was appointed president and the Franklin/Southampton facility was renamed Bon Secours – Southampton Medical Center.

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 magnolia101@charter.net.