Pridgen will live on in strides he made

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. — Warren Bennis

And so it was with Lee Pridgen.

Pridgen, who died earlier this week at age 81, was a visionary leader who brought great health care strides to Sampson County. The seeds he planted have blossomed into what has become a medical district filled with services to meet many of the health care needs of our community and beyond.

While Pridgen would have been the first to acknowledge that he, alone, didn’t make those strides, it was because of his vision and his strong leadership qualities that much of what we see and utilize today along Beaman Street exists. A testament to his strong presence, and great success, as CEO of the hospital can be found in the fact that after his long tenure (1973-2001) at Sampson Regional’s helm, he was called back to lead again during a period when there was no one in the top chair. And he did so with great enthusiasm, giving the hospital 110 percent and more every single day he was there.

For Lee Pridgen, rolling up his shirtsleeves and putting action behind the visions he had for medical care here was second nature. It was during throughout his nearly 30-year career at the hospital, when he was CEO and even when he was serving in only an interim capacity.

Pridgen was all about making things happen.

A quick look down Beaman shows the way Pridgen helped to pave, from an outpatient diagnostic center and an expanded emergency room to the Center of Health and Wellness and beyond. If he wasn’t leading the charge as CEO for the advanced health care services, he was first in line to cheer them on from the sidelines.

Such was Pridgen’s belief, first in this county and secondly in this county’s need for the best health care that could be afforded.

He also wanted to ensure he had the best physicians on staff, and he worked hard to make it so. But it didn’t stop with just doctors — he wanted the very best employees he could find in every nook and cranny of the hospital, ensuring that every patient was treated with optimum respect and had the best care the hospital could possibly give.

Pridgen was a team-player, one who didn’t believe in basking in the spotlight. In fact, he shied away from it, content on allowing others to take center stage, but insisting that with that center stage came the responsibility to take the hospital where it was and continue to push it forward, ensuring strides continued to be made. His focus was strictly on others and how they could, in turn, improve health care for all of Sampson.

And it paid off for us all, with growth that we continue to see even today.

As a CEO, Pridgen was spot on in his assessments and careful not to present visions that didn’t come with solid ways in which to turn them into realities. That meant providing a complete financial plan that wouldn’t cripple the hospital.

A gentle man with a great sense of humor, Pridgen was also a good writer, who used both is wisdom and his humor in columns he wrote for The Sampson Independent, a past time he grew to enjoy.

“It always amazes me how many people read my column,” Pridge said as he dropped by the paper to leave one of his written works. “I love doing it, and people seem to love reading it.”

He was always surprised by the way others received him, not shocking considering how low-key and unassuming the man really was.

But Pridgen was loved by many and respected just as much.

He earned both daily.

We were saddened this week by his passing, but like so many other visionaries in Sampson, Lee Pridgen will live on in the many strides he made for this county.