Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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October 15, 2013

A good and faithful servant

Gardiner retires after 35 years of service at hospital

Athens — Debbie Gardiner is a woman full of energy, conviction and determination. And for 35 years, she has focused those qualities on serving the patients, friends and team members at the hospital in Athens.

When Gardiner returned to her hometown of Athens in 1978 to serve as director of the intensive care unit, that hospital was Henderson County Memorial. In 1986, she was part of the staff which transitioned from the old hospital to the new, state-of-the-art hospital a few miles down the road — then known as Lakeland Medical Center and now as ETMC Athens. In 1989, she was appointed director of risk management and performance improvement, a position she excelled at until her retirement this month.

How does a hospital team mark the retirement of someone like Gardiner, who served faithfully for 35 years and had an enormous positive impact on the hospital, its patients and staff? With a victory line down the hallway leading to her retirement reception. Not only was the line made up of cheering, smiling, flag-waving friends, family and co-workers, but Gardiner was preceded down the hall by marching Trinity Valley Community College Cardettes. In typical hospital humor, she was rolled behind the Cardettes in a wheelchair bearing her name and dates of service. Judging by the expression on her face and shouts of delight, she couldn’t have been happier with the situation.

At the reception, her friends took turns at the podium speaking earnestly of their love for Gardiner and poking fun at her good-naturedly.

“When I started here, Debbie’s first words to me were, ‘Just agree with everything I do, and we’ll get along just fine,’” said Steve Lowe, director of engineering and safety at ETMC Athens. “I’m not sure she always got her way, but we did get along, and a good working relationship turned into a friendship.”

Sadie Meazell, data manager in the risk management department, said she would speak for all the nurses past and present on whom Debbie has had a positive influence. “For all the years you have worked, you have done a marvelous job. … We say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’”

Bob Geatches, retired former director of pharmacy at the hospital, said Gardiner can look back on her career and say “you gave it your all.” ETMC Athens Administrator Pat Wallace said he has counted on Gardiner over the years, not only for navigating visits by The Joint Commission, which accredits and certifies healthcare organizations, and for resolving staff issues, but also for friendly talks and a sympathetic ear. “Thank you so much for working with us all these years, and God bless you,” said Wallace.

“This takes my breath away,” said Gardiner to the dozens gathered to honor her service to the hospital. “It has been my blessing to work with these employees and our physicians and patients for the last 35 years. It is such an honor to have worked here.”

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