The 29 years I practiced medicine as a general surgeon in my hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas were full of countless fascinating stories of the many thousands of people I had the privilege of treating. I believe the first few years of transition to a private practice were easier for me professionally because my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) was an established physician, and he referred almost all of his surgical patients to me. As I became better known in the community, my referral base of patients widened to several surrounding cities and counties.
One afternoon I noted on my pre-op clinic schedule the name of a patient from Hampton, Arkansas a small town 30 miles north of El Dorado. Hampton is the county seat of Calhoun County and has a population of approximately 1300 residents. There were 2 family physicians in Hampton at the time, and one of them had referred her to me because of a serious circulation problem resulting in major lower extremity wound.
She was an elderly African-American lady with short grey hair and a slightly stooped appearance. She was quiet with a humble and grateful demeanor. Before I determined the extent and severity of her wounds, I wanted to know more about her life and life style which would help me understand better how to advise her future care. I asked had she always lived in Hampton to which she replied, “I was born and lived my early life in Hampton but moved away when I finished high school. I moved to Chicago where I got a job and worked until I recently retired and moved back home. I lived in Chicago for over 40 years.”
“What was the company from which you retired?” I asked. She said, “I worked for Sara Lee most of that 40 years.” “Wow, you must have known a lot of those recipes in that length of time,” I inquired. That is when she revealed the extent of her Sara Lee involvement. “I was the cook for Mr. Charles Lubin who started the company, and I was his original cook. We started out making and selling cakes and cheese cakes in the neighborhood in which he lived, and the business became so successful, we started selling all over Chicago. The company did so well in the city, he sold their cakes all over the country.” I asked her where he got the name for the company, and she said Sara Lee was his daughter’s name. She said the name of the original creme cheese cake was Sara Lee Cheese Cake, and that item was so instantly popular, Mr. Lubin decided to call the company “The Kitchens of Sara Lee.”
I said to my patient, “You must have really been a celebrity in the Sara Lee Company.” She quietly answered, “I did have two presidents ask to have their pictures made with me.” “Are you talking about two US Presidents?” “Yes sir, President Nixon and President Reagan toured the company and wanted to have their pictures made with the original cook, and I have those pictures hanging on my wall at home.”
She did have a very serious surgical problem requiring ultimately a limb amputation, and ensuing post-operative complications led to her death. Her underlying medical problems had so weakened her immune response and ability to recover from infection, she had no reserve when complications arose. She had only a few family members still living in Hampton, and her death was not mourned by many that I could tell.
The short time I had the privilege of knowing her and learning of her fascinating career in the corporate food business, I was blessed to have known someone who was such a pioneer in her field. I had spoken to her about her faith in Christ prior to her operation, and she assured me she had trusted in Him as her Savior before moving from Hampton. One day, probably soon, I will be able to get the rest of the story!