By JOEL McNEECE
Calhoun Health Services in Calhoun City, formerly Hillcrest Hospital, has never been without Linda Smith. The Medical Technologist came to work at the hospital when it opened in September of 1970.
Thirty-nine years to the day of its opening, Smith, 66, plans to retire.
“I’ve been telling Dr. Farmer he better retire soon because I wanted to be the last one here (from the original staff),” Smith said. “But he obviously hasn’t and I can’t wait anymore. I’m ready.”
Smith and Dr. Farmer are the last two remaining full-time employees at the hospital from the original personnel. Barbara Bryant, who began working at Hillcrest the day it opened, also still works with the hospital on a part-time basis.
Smith is originally from the Bruce area. The daughter of Lura and Ellis Ivy, Smith was raised in the Mt. Moriah Community and attended Bruce Schools through the ninth grade.
“We moved to Big Creek and I attended school there the last year they had a school,” Smith said. “I finished high school at Calhoun City.”
Smith said those were very different days with so many schools in Calhoun County.
“Back then we could play basketball all year long and not have to leave the county,” she said.
Smith said she was drawn to the medical field in the tenth grade after a trip to Texas to visit a cousin.
“Her mother told me all about what she did at the hospital and I was immediately fascinated by it,” Smith said.
After high school Smith went straight to Ole Miss where she studied chemistry and earned a degree in medical technology. After college she worked at LeBonheur in Memphis for a few years before returning home to Calhoun County to work with Dr. L.D. Webb.
When Hillcrest Hospital opened in Calhoun City on Sept. 7, 1970, Smith moved there to work in the laboratory as the facility’s medical technologist.
In that role Smith draws blood and other specimens to perform tests in the lab for the doctors for analysis.
“I’m a very analytical person,” Smith said. “I like to analyze things. I like seeing things that are unusual and trying to figure them out.”
Smith recalled in the early days of the hospital her job was slightly different due to the differing technology, or lack thereof, compared to today.
“Everything was manual back then,” she said.
Smith explained how when they would check someone’s blood sugar they had to take the sample, boil it, allow it to cool, and then use a measuring instrument to determine the calculation.
“Now it’s instant,” Smith said. “You just put the sample on the tool and it immediately gives you the reading.”
Smith recalled the original CO2 machines that had mercury in them.
“We played with mercury all the time,” Smith said. “I’m glad we were able to get rid of them.”
As the technology changed over the years, Smith was in a constant education process.
“Every new instrument that came out required new training,” Smith said. “It’s been a constant learning process.”
Smith said her work hours haven’t always been as friendly as they are now.
“When I started we had to be on call, so we could get called in at all hours of the night,” Smith said. “You didn’t get paid for taking calls either. It was just part of your job.”
Today, Smith has one more month of working from 7 a.m. - 3 p.m. Monday - Friday.
“I’m old now,” Smith said with a grin. “I’m ready to slow down.”
Smith said she has plenty of things on her list when she retires. She said first thing is lots of cleaning at her and husband Howard’s home in Derma.
“I’m going to get into all the closets and drawers, all those places that are long overdue for a good cleaning out,” she said.
The Smiths have two children – Glen, a chainsaw artist who has previously been featured in The Journal, and daughter Cheryl Carter, who lives in Waterloo, Canada, near Toronto. They also have three grandchildren.
“I hope to go and visit my daughter in Canada a lot more after I retire also,” Smith said.
The hospital is planning a reception honoring Smith for Tuesday, Sept. 1 from 1-3 p.m. on the second floor.
After nearly 40 years at the hospital, Smith can’t totally leave. She said she still plans to fill-in when needed on a part-time basis.
“This was my calling,” she said. “It’s what I was meant to do.”