The only hospital in El Dorado, Arkansas from 1921 until 1965 was Warner Brown Hospital. From my earliest remembrance Warner Brown Hospital played a large part in my life because of my family’s investment in it from its’ beginning. My granddad, Dr. J.A. Moore was one of the founding physicians; Pop, Bubba and I were members of the medical staff and each of us served at some point as Chief of the Medical Staff. In 1965 a second hospital, Union Memorial Hospital was opened and both served the community of South Arkansas as full service hospitals.
Warner Brown was operated by the Sisters of Mercy from 1927 until the mid-1970’s when they returned the management of the hospital back to the community. I have nothing but fond memories of all the Sisters of Mercy. As a child I would frequently accompany Pop to the hospital when he would go there to make evening rounds or to see a patient in the emergency room. One of the prime reasons I enjoyed going with Pop was I would get to visit with one or two of the Sisters on duty that evening. I think the Sisters had a special place in their hearts for me, not only because of their love for Granddad and Pop, but because my mother had died of breast cancer when I was an infant and for several years before Pop remarried, I was under the watchcare of various maids and care-givers.
There were several Sisters who were special favorites. I remember with fondness Mother Ursula, the hospital Director. She was an elderly but robust woman and was the first one that I remember wearing that strange-looking dress (Nun’s habit). When she would see me, she would say, “There’s my favorite little doctor,” and always give me a big hug and squeeze. It seemed that I was being buried into that fresh smelling and always starched black dress, that would crackle as I was being engulfed into it. In those days no one hugged me quite as well and as lovingly as Mother Ursula. Seven or eight years later, Pop told me that Mother Ursula was very sick as a patient in the hospital and was not expected to live much longer. He said she would love to have me visit her, so I was excited to go. I was greatly shocked to see her in bed, and although she was well covered with the bed covers, I had never seen her without her habit and had never seen her hair which was closely cropped. Despite her weakened state, she was still able to lean over and give me another big hug.
My favorite Sister by far was Sister Albertine who was the supervisor of the operating room and recovery room. Whenever she heard that I was in the hospital with Pop, she would make a special effort to find us and visit with me for a few minutes. She would say things like, “Be sure and call me if I can do anything for you.” I was certain she meant what she said because even at age 3 or 4, I was able to call the hospital. This was a few years before El Dorado had dial telephone service and when one picked up a receiver, a telephone operator would say, “Number please!” I would just say Warner Brown and the operator would connect me by plugging into the 3 digit switchboard number. The hospital operator was Mrs. May Wall, and I would tell her that I wanted to talk with Sister Albertine. She easily recognized my voice and would always connect me. Sister Albertine later told me that I would usually say, “Sister Albertine, I’m out here all by myself. Would you send me a Coke?” She knew I was not alone but was always eager to have a Coke. Most of the time, she would get the hospital orderly, Richard Holt to drive to our home with an ice-cold Coke. I don’t think I abused the privilege and probably only made that request a couple of times. More often when I called Sister Albertine, she would just ask me what I was doing and when was I coming to the hospital to see her. I loved hearing her voice, and she always made me feel important that I was able to call the hospital and speak with her. She never made me feel I was imposing on her time. Sister Albertine served at Warner Brown Hospital until the 1960’s; was transferred to St. Edwards Hospital in Fort Smith, and I lost contact with her for many years.
In the latter part of 1989, our daughter Mary Kay, who was a freshman at the University of Arkansas, was horseback riding with a friend in a mountainous area south of Fayetteville. She was an excellent rider but had an uncooperative horse that she was unable to control. She was thrown from the horse and sustained serious pelvic injuries that required emergency hospitalization. Because of her proximity to Fort Smith, she was admitted to St. Edwards Hospital in the middle of the night, and Cathy and I were called. We immediately dressed and began the 6 hour drive from El Dorado to Fort Smith, arriving there about 8 AM. Thankfully we found Mary Kay well care-for and stabilized, but requiring significant amounts of pain medication for the serious and painful injuries.
When we were certain that Mary Kay was out of immediate danger, I asked the nursing supervisor if Sister Albertine was still working, to which she responded, “Yes, and she is on duty today.” I had her paged and when she answered I said, “Sister Albertine, this is John Henry and I am in St. Edwards in Room 410 all by myself. Can you bring me a Coke?” She said, “I’ll be right there.” When she arrived, she had an icy Coke in her hand, and we embraced and praised the Lord that we could meet again. Sister Albertine was 79 years old but still was energetic and with that same sweet personality that had made me feel important and special years before. We got caught up on the years that had separated us, while Cathy and Mary Kay also got to know that special Sister they had heard me talk about so often.
Sister Albertine lived to be 90 years old and was buried near her birth place in central Arkansas. I’m certain that God gave her long life in order to minister to the needs of others, and especially to the least of these, like little 3-year-old boys who are lonely and could use a kind word as well as an ice-cold Coke.