|Ocala, FL -
Published in the Ocala Star-Banner on Friday, September 2, 2011 at 3:36 p.m
After 39½ years, Shirley Cunningham still knows the exact date she started working at Munroe Regional Medical Center — Jan. 10, 1972.
Friday was Cunningham's last day as supervisor of health information management for the medical records department. A farewell party was held for her on Thursday.
"You get to understand this place so well — it's like a part of your heart — but it's time for me to move on and maybe do something different," she said.
Cunningham said she moved to Ocala from Jackson County in 1971 and started to study nursing at the College of Central Florida. She later changed her mind and graduated with an associate of arts degree but still wanted to work at a hospital.
She started out as a unit secretary and held that position seven years before moving to the medical records department, where she stayed for the next 32½ years.
"I felt if I put more into it, then I would get more out of it. What kept me here is what this hospital offers to others in this community ... and I felt like it offered me stability, and was also a place where I felt respected," she said.
Co-worker Pat Mullins has worked beside Cunningham all 39½ years, and became emotional when asked what it would be like working without her.
"I can't even go into her office right now because it is so empty. She's very caring and responsible, and needs to be proud of her work because she has great integrity. She keeps me grounded when things aren't going well, and will tell you that it is OK and will help you work it out," Mullins said.
Cunningham was recently honored for being one of the charter donors to the Munroe Foundation in 1988. Beth McCall, executive director of the foundation, said it was rare to still have a charter member working at the hospital, and still donating.
"She's such a role model for the other employees. She has such a good heart, and everybody loves Shirley. It means a tremendous amount when I have an employee who feels so strong in the foundation; you can't put a price tag on that. It is absolutely the best marketing tool we have," McCall said.
Jennifer Hatchett, development officer for the foundation, said although she first met Cunningham at her retirement party, she could tell she was a very special person to the hospital.
"There was a long line out the door waiting for people to give her a hug. Maybe one day I'll be here after 39 years," Hatchett said.
Cunningham said she didn't have any immediate plans for a vacation but aims to spend as much quality time with her children and grandchildren as she can.
"I'm happy that she will be having fun with her family. She deserves it and has taken care of us for so long, she's always looking out for us. She is just the one you go to when you have any type of issue. If you can't find someone else to help, you can find Shirley. You know the job will get done, too," said Mullins.