Every Thursday for the past few months, I’ve taken part in a hardhat tour of the new Crosstown Concourse building. The massive structure is being transformed in remarkable ways and will be the home of the Church Health Center in Spring 2017.
The sounds of jackhammers and machinery fill the tours. Crews have just begun installing 3,200 windows one-by-one. It is exciting to watch and thrilling to consider the Church Health Center’s future there.
While I am truly looking forward to the move, I will miss some things we will leave behind on our Peabody Campus that few others even know exist. Much of it is embedded in my memories, but there are concrete memories as well.
I mean literal concrete.
The week before the Church Health Center opened in 1987, the rehab crew poured the concrete for the driveway. Before it was set, the eight of us who were here and ready to greet our first patients went out and signed our names in a corner of the parking lot. Occasionally, I go and take a look at the spot. Remarkably three of us are still here: Robert Phillips, who works on our facilities staff, Kim Simmons, who helps with administrative duties, and me. It is hard to make out the names, but I can tell who signed where.
Then there is the window in the break room at 1210 Peabody. I am sure many people have eaten in that room without realizing that it once was where we took x-rays. The window is there so that the x-ray tech could look in to see what was being shot. The drywall in the room is lined with lead. It will never fall down.
What is now the kitchen in 1210 used to be the lab. The cabinets were designed and built by a cabinetmaker in south Memphis. He had never made anything for a medical clinic, so they look a lot like cabinets you would find in your home. They have served us well.
I also will miss the carpet going up the stairs to my office. It is only there because Jean Campbell, my longtime friend and fundraising partner, used to trip on the steps on an almost daily basis. We had a big disagreement about putting runners on the steps: I thought carpet would detract from the beauty of the wood. She thought without the carpet, she would break her neck.
When Jean died, we bought a clock for the volunteer room from which so many donor letters have been mailed. The clock is to remind everyone that Jean expected people to receive a thank-you from us within 24 hours. My wife Mary and my friend and colleague Ann Langston, who has been at my side for so many years at the Church Health Center, picked out the clock. An ornamental piece, the clock doesn’t actually function at all. I have never understood why they bought a clock that doesn’t keep time. They just thought it had the look that Jean would have liked, and I am sure they are right.
In the clinic, one of the rooms where I always see patients is designed with a Barney the Dinosaur theme. Most of our staff know that the Barney room is in memory of Scott Wallace. His mother was once a physician with us. During the time that she worked here, her three-year-old son, Scott, died of leukemia. He died on my birthday, and I had the privilege of conducting his funeral. It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.
To remember him, we decorated an exam room with a Barney theme because he loved Barney. I realize that SpongeBob and others have replaced Barney in the hearts and minds of today’s children, but that will not ever matter to me. While we will need to find fresh wall hangings, I can assure you that we will have a Barney room in the new space. As it happens, Scott’s mother, Febe Wallace, was in town and came for a visit just last week. When she went to visit the Barney room, there was not a dry eye to be found.
We will also not be taking the brick area out by the bus stop. One of our clinic assistants years ago came to me and said, “I have noticed people stand waiting for the bus in the mud. I don’t know anything about medicine yet, but I am good with my hands. Would it be okay if I built a brick pad for them to stand on?”
His name is John Huber, and he is now a well-respected dermatologist in Memphis. While he has volunteered to see many patients for us, I will always remember him for that brick waiting pad.
Next to that is Rob’s bench. Rob volunteered for us when he was a student at Rhodes. He and I used to play racquetball together. (I always won.) He went to medical school and was going to be a great doctor and come back to work with us. But his girlfriend died in a traffic accident, and he never got over the loss. A year to the date after she died, he took his own life. His mother and friends gave the bench in his memory.
We will find a way to take that bench with us.
Lastly, we will not be able to take McRae House with us. Frank McRae was like a second father to me. He gave me the chance to find a home at St. John’s Methodist Church and be an associate minister there. Because he trusted me and my vision, he took his entire pastor’s discretionary fund to buy a dilapidated boarding house that would become our initial clinic. We named our building on the corner at 1216 Peabody after him. Initially, I made the plaque as small as possible as a joke to keep him from getting a big head, but a few years ago Ann had a new one made that is more appropriate. A little over a year ago Frank died, so he will not care that we leave the building with his name on it and move on. That is what has to happen to advance this ministry and any other, but I will miss just seeing it every day and thinking about Frank and what he meant to me, the Church Health Center, and Memphis.
You can never take with you all that has meant something in your life or the life of an organization. But I do hope we will not let these places and items be lost from the collective memory of the Church Health Center. They are important parts of who we are.