Glen Matthews is not a man to wear his emotions on his sleeve. However, when staff members at Sampson Regional Medical Center gathered last Thursday afternoon to celebrate the longest tenured employee to ever retire from the hospital after 48 years, it was all he could do to hold back the tears.
“I just appreciate and love everyone here today,” the 67-year-old told the standing-room only audience inside the hospital’s cafeteria. “I am holding back my tears, but I want all of you to know you have all been family to me.”
“And we will continue to be,” said Mike Gilpin, vice president for SRMC Human Resources. “That will never change.”
It wasn’t until Rebecca Willis, the hospital’s chief nursing officer, spoke that Matthews’ tough exterior shell began to break.
“Glen has meant a lot to us for a whole lot of years,” she said. “I have known him for 31 years, and it is amazing the amount of patients that come in and ask for him by name — they still do. I just can’t say enough about him, and there is no way that we can express our gratitude for your service.”
Wiping away tears, Matthews gave Willis a mammoth hug and thanked her.
“It is just amazing how many of the patients ask for him,” said Wanda Holden, Medical and Surgical Floor manager. “I just can’t tell you how much he has meant to us — we miss him already.”
Matthews began 48 years ago at the hospital after a suggestion by his brother, Chavis, who, in his own right worked 47 years before retiring three years back.
“I came here and it immediately felt like family to me,” said Matthews. “At the time I started, I was staying with my grandmother, and when she passed away, I just felt like I needed to help people. So, I went into the medical field.”
During his tenure, Matthews held many positions at the hospital, his last being a nursing assistant. “I worked in the operating room, physical therapy and with all the nurses,” he said. “I have done CPR on a lot of patients and was able to get them back — that, to me, was a great feeling. It is just amazing. To know that I have brought somebody back to life, is an incredible feeling.”
Matthews is one of seven members of his family to work at the hospital during the last four decades. The last one remaining at the hospital is his younger brother, Lloyd.
“We just love it here,” he said. “It is very simple. I loved the job and I love helping people. From the beginning I loved helping the people get better.”
It is something that Sampson Regional Medical Center CEO David Masterson can understand.
“From my perspective, I can imagine his focus on patients and their families,” he said. “For any healthcare worker, compassion is the foundation for longevity. If you love what you do, you lose track of time.”
And Masterson appreciates Matthews’ years of service.
“I think Sampson Regional Medical Center is blessed to have many employees who have served many, many years,” he said. “Mr. Matthews is one example of an employee who is committed to our patients in a career that spans decades. We celebrate his accomplishments, commitment, and compassion.”
That commitment and care for others runs deep in the new retiree.
“My parents always instilled helping others into us,” Matthews said. “I have always been like that, and it makes me feel good to know that I may have helped someone along my journey.”
Although his patients were always held close to his heart, Matthews said the biggest change in his nearly 50 years at the hospital has been technology.
“Oh man, it is amazing,” he said. “It is great because what we have now will continue to help more people. When we started out, we didn’t even have I.V. poles ... But now it has really grown, which is great. It is growing so fast, I can’t even keep up.”
The toughest part of his job has been growing close to his patients and then losing them to an illness.
“It is the toughest part of the job,” he said. “You do get involved with them, you are human. But you learn how to appreciate things more. The best you can do is try to talk to them or the families and keep things positive, even when you know that it may not be looking so good. You have to step up and play your role and give them some comfort. It is hard, but you have to do it.”
Matthews said he has saved cards and letters from families thanking him for his help during the most trying times of their lives. Those momentos span decades.
“It means everything to me to have someone to take the time to write me a note to thank me for helping them,” he said. “Getting something like that always made me want to do more to help others. It is the ultimate compliment for someone in the medical field.”
When asked about his co-workers, Matthews pauses and said he never really thought of them as just that.
“You know, over the years, it became more of a family to me,” he said. “This is a family hospital where everyone loves and cares for each other ... what more could you ask for? I wasn’t coming to work, I was coming to see my family, which made everything easier.”
And that is why the decision to retire was such a difficult one for him.
After a tough 2009, where his wife passed away around Christmas, Matthews noticed that he was slowing down and didn’t know why.
“I later found out I had a murmur in my heart,” he said. “And it was slowing me down a bit ... I figured I would let the young people come in and take over. When I came in and told them, it was very hard. A couple days later, I was thinking ‘what have I done’ ... But I realized that I really needed to slow down more.”
What are his plans for the immediate future? Spending time with his four grown children, getting involved with his church more and continuing to help others in whatever way he can.
And yes, he does plan to keep visiting his family members at the hospital during his retirement.
“I do plan on coming back to seeing my family,” he said laughing.
Although the field is one of the most difficult jobs, Matthews said he wants to encourage everyone to take a chance.
“When you begin, you have to love the job,” he said. “You have to love the work and the patients. You have to care for people. To help people is a wonderful thing. Yes, it is a difficult job. But I always got my love and gratification from Jesus Christ. If you don’t love Him, you don’t love nobody. Day to day, I do my best to love Him and the rest always comes easy.”
As he gently opens a photo book that captures memories from his nearly 50 year career, Matthews laughs while looking at the old photos and is grateful that his family is there to celebrate with him.
“To know that these people here care and appreciate the job that you have done through the years, it is just something that makes you feel really good,” he said, wiping his eyes. “If I could start all over again, I would. In a minute.”
To reach Doug Clark call 910-592-8137 ext. 123 or send e-mail to email@example.com.