Nursing career spans 45 years

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 30, 2004

WINDSOR – The year is 1959.

Some of the more &uot;seasoned&uot; readers may recall that it was during this year in history that:

John Sailling, the last documented Civil War vet, dies at 111;

Troll dolls, Chatty Kathy, the games of Life and Risk, and Barbie all debut with staggering success in the toy industry;

Bread is 20 cents a loaf, stamps are 4 cents each, and the minimum wage is 1 dollar per hour;

NBC and PBS networks air for the first time;

President Dwight D Eisenhower signs the Hawaii statehood bill.

And it was in this same year that another historical moment occurred in the small, rural town of Windsor, N.C. – a moment that you won’t find in any history books.

It was on March 1, 1959, that a very young and newly wed Ida Mae Cecil began work as a nurses’ aide at Bertie Memorial Hospital (BMH).

What makes that date so significant is that last spring, Mrs. Cecil celebrated her 45th year of service at that very same hospital.

She has been at the hospital almost as long as the hospital has been opened to the public.

&uot;Let’s see, I started in 1959 and the hospital opened in 1952.

The hospital has only been around seven years longer than I have,&uot; said Cecil.

With over four decades of committed service to BMH, Mrs. Ida Mae was recently honored by University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina (UHS) during the system-wide 2004 Employee Recognition Banquet held in Greenville.

Mrs. Cecil was the only employee among the dozens of honorees with such a long record of service.

And that says a lot.

University Health Systems employs hundreds of people within its system, which includes Bertie Memorial Hospital, Pitt County Memorial Hospital of Greenville, Roanoke-Chowan Hospital of Ahoskie, Chowan Hospital of Edenton, Heritage Hospital of Tarboro and the Outer Banks Hospital of Nags Head.

&uot; Forty-five years of service to one company is a rarity in an era when the average American changes jobs up to eight times during the course of his or her career,&uot; said Mary Beth Hill, Human Resources Coordinator for BMH.

&uot;University Health Systems honored Mrs. Cecil to let her know just how much that kind of dedicated service means.&uot;

In her 11 and a half years of working in HR with the hospital, Hill said that Mrs. Cecil is the first employee she has seen with such a long record of service.

So what has given Mrs. Cecil such staying power?

&uot;I love working with patients and with their families.

Being hands-on with them,&uot; she said.

&uot;I’ve never wanted to do anything else.&uot;

Forty-five years ago, she had no idea things would turn out as they have, she said.

&uot;I started out in 1959 with a three-month, unpaid training program and then I went on to make about 99 dollars a month.&uot;

Although the money wasn’t much, even by 1959 standards, the work was about so much more, said Cecil.

&uot;We were all one big family back then.

Nurses and nurses aides, working side-by-side.

And, it being a small town, we really knew our patients.&uot;

Mary Davis, administrator for Cashie Medical Center, has been an employee of Bertie Memorial Hospital for 18 years.

&uot;I remember in 1961, when I was just a little girl, around 8 years old, coming to the hospital to visit my mamma who was sick,&uot; said Davis.

&uot;And Ms. Ida Mae was sitting at the nurses’ desk.

She directed me where to go.&uot;

Davis adds with a smile, &uot;She’s still sitting at that desk directing people where to go.&uot;

Ms. Ida Mae Cecil admits that she doesn’t remember that day when little Mary Davis stopped by, but she does have a lot of happy memories she carries with her from all those years in nursing.

Cecil said that she particularly remembers when the hospital became desegregated after the nation-wide hospital desegregation movements of the 1950s.

&uot;It was some time in the 1960s,&uot; she said.

&uot;The hospital had 50 beds and three floors.

The operating rooms were on the second floor, along with a section for black patients.

The OB/GYN department and nursery were on the third floor along with rooms for white patients.

We’ve come a long way since those days.&uot;

Cecil said that she also remembered that during the early days of the hospital, there was a very active Women’s Guild, which was an organization of African-American women from the community who worked with the hospital as volunteers.

In 1966, Cecil decided it was time to get her nursing license to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN).

Every week for a year, she left her husband behind, took a bus to Elizabeth City, and stayed in the nursing student’s dormitory at the College of the Albemarle (COA).

&uot;It was a lot of hard work,&uot; she said.

&uot;And I’d come back home to Windsor to work at the hospital on the weekends and be with my husband, Bobby.&uot;

In 1974, Cecil once again decided it was time to further her education.

She got back on the bus and returned to COA, this time to become a registered nurse (RN).

&uot;This time, it took me two years,&uot; she said.

&uot;But I knew it was worth it.

It would make me a better nurse. And the hospital still kept me while I was studying so hard.&uot;

After all of these years in the hospital business, a lot has changed, said Cecil.

&uot;With all this new technology, nothing seems the same anymore, except the doctors still use stethoscopes,&uot; laughs Cecil.

&uot;And healthcare costs a lot more.&uot;

Cecil said that she remembered when she started working, it cost around $13 a day to stay in the hospital.

Historical records confirm Cecil’s recollections. During the late 50s, the Bertie Memorial Hospital published an informational pamphlet.

It explained the hospital charges, which at the time, seemed excessive to many.

The pamphlet read: &uot;If you are paying $10 a day for service, you are actually paying 42 cents an hour since you receive hospital service 24 hours a day.

Do you know any other kind of service you can purchase at such a rate?&uot;

And if Mrs. Ida Mae Cecil had it all to do over again?

&uot;Well, I’d still be a nurse,&uot; said Cecil, &uot;right here in Bertie County.&uot;

And, it’s still just like family here, even after all the changes, up and downs, she said. &uot;It was and still is a great place to work.&uot;

As to how much longer she plans to stick around, &uot;well, that all depends,&uot; she said with a wink.

Depends on what?

&uot;What the good Lord has in store for me,&uot; she said smiling.

&uot;And now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got some patient charts to review.&uot;


Mrs. Ida Mae Cecil


Mrs. Ida Mae Cecil


Mrs. Ida Mae Cecil stands with Bertie Memorial Hospital president Jeffrey N. Sackrison at a Service Awards banquet held in Greenville.

Cecil was honored and awarded for 45-years of service.