Charlotte Davis isn’t normally an angry person, but she’s still simmering about the demise of St. Mary’s Hospital.
“It didn’t have to happen,” she said. “And it makes me so cotton-picking mad. I know the problems started a long time ago, but when they were so hell-bent on buying out Baptist (Hospital of East Tennessee), I think that was the end.”
While Davis certainly isn’t alone in her feelings about the hospital’s closing, it’s probably more personal to her than most. She was born there, went to school there and worked there for more than 40 years.
The way she remembers it, she landed at St. Mary’s School of Nursing pretty much by process of elimination after she graduated from Central High School in 1951. A longtime friend from school and church was going to go to nursing school, and Davis decided to go with her.
(Note: It’s an understatement to say that Charlotte Davis is not given to bragging. She is modest in the extreme.)
“I didn’t think I wanted to be a secretary, and I’d worked in women’s sportswear at Miller’s, so I didn’t want that. My mother was a teacher and I knew I didn’t want to do that, either. That left nursing.”
Her friend soon changed her mind and dropped out. Davis stayed.
In 1954, she became the first person born in that hospital to graduate from nursing school there. She has fond memories of the ice-cream-cone-shaped cap she earned upon graduation.
She began her career as a staff nurse, became an assistant head nurse and then head nurse on the pediatrics ward, where she remained until the early 1990s. She spent two years as an instructor in pediatrics at the School of Nursing and was for years a relief supervisor there on alternate weekends.
She had a gift for pediatrics (Note #2: The information above was gleaned from the biography someone else wrote when Davis was named to Central High’s Wall of Fame – I told you she was modest.). And one thing she does love to talk about is working with children.
“The children didn’t complain; they were there and accepted what needed to be done. I felt I was receiving more than I gave. At that time, it was at the end of the polio epidemic. But there were still people who had polio.
“At that time Knox General was the only hospital with a contagious ward, so they’d transfer to St. Mary’s for physical therapy. We had lots of little ones who couldn’t use an arm or a leg. It really gave you a sense of accomplishment when you saw them improve with PT.
“I remember one little fellow, his arms were paralyzed and he would play with toys with his feet. He learned to hold a spoon with his toes and feed himself. That was what was so wonderful about taking care of kids. We had a sun porch and on nice warm days we would roll the kids out there in wheelchairs or beds.”
In the 1980s, she was trained to develop and manage a program in collaboration with the school system to help children allay their fears of the hospital by role-playing as doctors, nurses and even patients. First-grade students were brought by bus to the hospital for this much-acclaimed educational experience (this information also comes from her Wall of Fame induction, not from Davis, of course).
In 1990, St. Mary’s dropped pediatrics, and Davis became head nurse in orthopedics. She took early retirement in July 1994. But that doesn’t mean she’s slowed down.
Davis is a longtime member of Fountain City Town Hall, serving on the board of directors and as treasurer and spending countless hours attending City Council, MPC and Board of Zoning Appeals meetings and showing up whenever there was a public issue that affected her community. She was named Fountain City Woman of the Year in 1992. (Again, none of these plaudits came from Davis.)
She is a stellar public citizen and an even better private one. Her friend Carlene Malone says she doesn’t mind tooting Davis’ horn for her:
“When I was a patient in St. Mary’s last year, she came to see me and brought me a beautiful plant. Then one of the nuns came to see me because I’m a friend of Charlotte’s. She is very respected. Although Charlotte is modest to a fault, she is a person you can trust with anything – with any confidence, any need. She is everything you would want in a friend.”