Blanton hailed as medical visionary

Published 10:35 pm Monday, October 20, 2008

AHOSKIE – John C. Blanton will forever be remembered as the man that changed the face of modern medical care in the local area.

Now, 52 years after he first began to mold Roanoke-Chowan Hospital into what it is today, his “face” will forever grace the halls of this medical facility.

In front of a standing-room only crowd here Saturday at the fellowship hall at First Presbyterian Church in Ahoskie, family, friends and former co-workers of Blanton (now deceased) witnessed the unveiling of his portrait.

During the luncheon ceremony, Blanton was hailed as visionary of modern medicine and for his never-ending efforts to improve medical care and treatment for citizens of the local area.

“His vision and tenacity provided better healthcare to all of eastern North Carolina and his actions need to be memorialized,” said Carl Taylor, a former local pharmacist who is now a Clinical Assistant Professor at the UNC School of Pharmacy as well as serving as Director of Pharmacy Services for Piedmont Health Services.

Taylor, who presented the tribute, noted Blanton took the R-CH reins in 1956 and held them firmly in his capable hands until his retirement in 1985. That made Blanton the longest serving R-CH president in its 60-year history.

Opened as a 40-bed facility in 1948, Roanoke-Chowan Hospital experienced growth during Blanton’s leadership. Over the course of his years in the president’s office, Blanton orchestrated an increase in the number of beds available at the hospital (increased to 109), presided over total integration of R-CH and proudly watched his hospital become a leader in the healthcare community.

“John Blanton led Roanoke-Chowan Hospital in unprecedented growth in its physical plant, services offered and staff,” Taylor said. “While Roanoke-Chowan Hospital of today looks different than it did when John Blanton arrived in Ahoskie years ago, John Blanton’s name remains forever stamped on that hospital.”

While today’s local residents are the recipients of the medical foundation that Blanton laid years ago, his legacy remains strong in another way.

“John Blanton believed in a pay-as-you-go system at the hospital,” Taylor said. “That kept the hospital out of debt. He saved this hospital millions of dollars.”

That fact was later touched upon by Pete Geilich who succeeded Blanton as R-CH President.

“Not long after I arrived at R-CH, I discovered $3 million in CD’s (Certificates of Deposit) that John had in the bank,” Geilich said. “That money became the nest egg for what is now the Roanoke-Chowan Hospital Foundation.”

As Taylor pointed out in his presentation, the Foundation has contributed over $7.5 million in health and wellness grants locally over the years. Of those grants, $850,000 went to the ViQuest Center, a modern facility that places an emphasis on wellness.

During the opening of Saturday’s event, Rev. Richard Rice of the First Presbyterian Church said it was only fitting that this tribute to Blanton came at the church he loved so dearly.

“We are here to honor a man who helped lay the foundation of modern medicine here in the Roanoke-Chowan area,” Rev. Rice said.

Current R-CH President Sue Lassiter also made brief remarks, saying that she felt the Blanton family’s hearts were warmed by the large crowd in attendance.

Following the unveiling, Blanton’s children, John C. Blanton Jr. of Greensboro and Nancy Blanton Earley of Knightdale, made remarks on behalf of their family.