A Nursing Legacy
Today’s heroes are the nurses, doctors and associates who are on the front line to keep us alive and well. Appropriately, May is the month in which nurses are honored each year with May 6th through 12th designated as National Nurses’ Week, the 12th being the birthday of Florence Nightingale. Nightingale, the “mother of modern nursing” was the first nurse to recognize and institute the practice of cleanliness and hygiene as essential to wellness, healing and recovery from illness.
Currently, there are 20 retired nurses who live at Kirby Pines. Each in her own way has been on the front line during war time or times of high contagion. Kirby nurses remember caring for tuberculosis and polio patients. Many volunteered to help in massive immunization programs such as the polio vaccine of the late 50’s.
So, it is appropriate to recognize one of Kirby’s nurses, Gail Waldrop, who, at age 40, chose nursing as a third career. Her story is not the typical story but one which is inspiring and revealing.
Gail Dodson was born on a farm in Winfield, Alabama, the oldest of nine children. Her nurturing instincts came in to play early as it became her role to be a “second mother” to her siblings. The family moved to Wyandotte, Michigan when she was 14 years old. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a welder. Following graduation from high school, Gail took a giant step and left her family in Michigan to attend David Lipscomb College in Nashville. She graduated with a B.A. in English and was elected to the honor society, Sigma Tau Delta. Following graduation, Gail chose to be close to family members and moved to Mobile, Alabama for a teaching position. A faithful Christian, Gail met her future husband, Gene, at church. He was a Mississippi State engineering student and was spending the summer working at Brookley Air Force Base. Following his senior year, he “persisted in the pursuit” and he and Gail married on August 29, 1959. They moved to Birmingham, Alabama where he was employed by Chicago Bridge and Iron Co. Gail taught school until their first daughter, Melissa was born. This began Gail’s second career as homemaker. Julie, their second daughter, was born four years later.
During her time as homemaker, Gail’s husband was transferred frequently. They lived in many states, but Gail’s favorite place was the four years they spent in London, England. While there, the family traveled extensively in UK and to most European countries and Russia. In 1976, Gene was transferred to Memphis and the family resided in Germantown. It was during this time that Gail recognized a need to be “useful to society” again. She enrolled in the Associate Degree Nursing Program at Memphis State University. She graduated in 1980 and began her third career. She worked at St. Francis Hospital on the oncology unit until Gene was once again transferred-this time to Birmingham, Alabama where Gail worked in oncology and hospice care. She soon began to feel the burden of so much sadness and opted for a job with BlueCross/Blue Shield in rehabilitation care. During the 10 years Gail worked for BCBS, she enrolled in the RN to BSN program at University of Alabama. On graduation, Gail was inducted into Sigma Theta Tau, a national honorary society of nurses. She also passed the national test for Certified Rehabilitation Registered Nurses. Gail’s mother questioned, “Gail, are you ever going to quit going to school?”
Finally, retired from BCBS, but because of her expertise in rehabilitation, Gail was employed part-time by Medicare, working on special projects in conjunction with doctors in all fields of medicine. She was active in the community, serving on the Literacy Council and as docent at Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Birmingham Museum of Art.
When husband, Gene retired, Gail and Gene moved to Collierville to be near family, especially grandchildren. In addition to the two daughters, Gail and Gene were grandparents to four and great-grandparents to one. They became active members of Germantown Church of Christ. Gail also became involved in several community activities, serving as docent at Brooks Museum of Art as well as church activities.
Gail and Gene moved to Kirby Pines in July, 2015. This was the SIXTEENTH home or apartment Gail has lived in. Sadly after nearly 57 years of marriage, Gene passed away on May 20, 2016 from complications of surgery.
Gail Waldrop indeed has a legacy of service. Her 20 years as a nurse met her needs to be of value to mankind as well as meeting the needs of special areas in the nursing arena of care. Gail says, “I have had a wonderful life. I am glad to be at Kirby Pines. It is where I need to be at this stage of my life.”
A special thanks to all the nurses who have contributed to our well-being. Thanks to all the Kirby nurses for the role you have played in making our city and country THE BEST health care system in the world.
Written by Joan Dodson, Resident, Kirby Pines