Each fall for the past 15 or 16 years, former employees of Blount Memorial Hospital have come together to remember when.

This year is no different. On Oct. 11, fellow nurses Peggy Putnam, Cathy Shaver, Brenda Thomas, Vanna Holbert, Lucy Dawson, Marty McNeilly, Betty Seaton and Helen Webb will attend the annual reunion at Chilhowee View Community Center. The doors open at 11 a.m. and the meal starts at noon. They hope to see more familiar faces and some they don’t know as all former employees are invited to the covered-dish affair.

Add up the years of service for these women and the total is nothing short of phenomenal. It’s 274.

Putnam’s portion of that is 34 years. She retired in 2013 after being clinical nurse specialist all that time. She said the hospital had 60 beds then. Putnam lived in Knoxville but said the drive was worth it to be at a hospital different from the one she came from.

“I came from Vanderbilt,” this nurse said. “Nothing negative about Vanderbilt, but I wanted to work in a smaller, family hospital.”

She said she came for her interview and spoke to three different supervisors, Alice Claborne, Joan Jackson and Frank Messier. At the end, Messier asked her if she knew what a clinical nurse specialist does.

Putnam admitted she didn’t because the position was so new at most hospitals.

“Well, we’ll figure it out,” was Messier’s response. He didn’t know either. His next question: When can you start?

Figuring it out together

Putman started her 34-career for BMH that very next day.

Shaver retired in 2012 after giving 36 years. She was a charge nurse in the ER.

Thomas called BMH her employer for 31 years and retired in 2010. She worked

in medical surgical.

Holbert called herself the “baby” of the group, with 23 years of service to the hospital. Her duties were in orthopedic, and nurse manager. Her career was shorter than the others because she got a late start.

“I was 38 or 39 when I went back to school,” Holbert said. She had raised her family first.

It was in 2015 that Dawson retired, after working for 42 years in surgery and recovery. She moved here from Pennsylvania and was grateful that BMH supported her to continue training to go from LPN to RN.

Marty McNeilly racked up 38 years, retiring in 2013. She started off as medical surgery nurse but ended up in information systems.

The remaining 32 years of the 274 total belongs to Betty Seaton. She worked in CCU and ICU. Retirement came in 2010.

All of these nurses worked together at one point during their careers. Some worked on Sept. 11, 2001, when the largest terrorist attack occurred in our nation. They also recall their shifts during the blizzard of 1993.

“If you were here, you stayed here,” Webb said. Those who were needed but stuck at home were picked up in vehicles that could plow through.

Shaver recalled one particularly hazardous day when there were not many staffers in place.

She said administrators were having to pitch in by cooking breakfast. Shaver was the deliverer of said meal.

She served one end of the hall and called down to find out where the rest of the food was.

Turns out, Shaver had given out the food for the entire hall to just half.

The fill-in cook had to get back to work.

Putnam said pitching in was something everyone did. “I developed an appreciation for everybody in every department,” she said. “I realized it takes us all.”

Doctors back in those days weren’t specialists, Webb said. And if a patient was in crisis, a doctor stopped by to help whether the patient was his or not.

They also spent the night in snow and ice storms.

The nature of their work also required them to work holidays. Holbert said she remembers Dr. Bryan Thompson coming in on Christmas wearing a tuxedo and bright red tie.

“He said he wanted the day to be festive,” Holbert recalled.

These nurses also recall when former administrator Joe Dawson came dressed as Santa Claus, visiting both patients and staff. Putnam said she always enjoyed working that holiday, allowing for those with children to be home where they belonged.

Where to go from here

Each has moved on to different interests in retirement. For Seaton, that isn’t much different from her career. She keeps her nursing license current so she can go on medical missions abroad. She’s been to Brazil, India and Guatemala. She made her first such trip in 1986.

After saying goodbye to BMH, they have stuck around this community. Holbert said some BMH alumni get together each month for lunch. The friendships that were forged in their nursing careers remain strong, she said.

These friends/former coworkers said they are looking forward to reconnecting with others they worked alongside at BMH. Some of the former physicians have attended over the years.

Looking back, they all agreed things are much different now in their field. They also know their training as caregivers meant one important thing.

“We did what needed doing,” Putnam said. “Period.”

Melanie joined The Daily Times in the early 90s and has served as the Life section editor since 1993. A William Blount and UT alum, Melanie is generally the early arriver who turns on the lights in the newsroom.

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