By A.M. Sheehan
NORWAY — This past Friday was her last day.
After 23 years at Stephens Memorial Hospital, the past 10 as vice president of Development & Community Relations, Barbara Allen, 65, of Waterford, has retired.
Allen grew up “in the burbs of Massachusetts” in Arlington. When she was 16, he father, who owned an elevator company in Boston retired and moved the family to Waterford where her grandparents lived and where they had summered.
Two years later, she graduated from Oxford Hills High School and went back to Boston to attend Chandler School for Women – a secretarial school.
After finishing school she worked for a brokerage firm in Boston until and opportunity came up to come back to Maine.
“I missed Maine so I did [come back],”she says.
She worked for a mobile home company in Oxford for a while, then in human resources for Paris Manufacturing, then as assistant sales manager for S.B. Cummings, then as transportation manager for a mobile home plant in Oxford and then for Stephens Memorial Hospital as an administrative assistant.
After a few months at SMH, Allen says she was brought in to then-President Harrison Ham’s office and when she left his office, she was his executive assistant and director of Medical Affairs.
Her responsibilities included the recruitment of physicians and the credentialing of applicants.
Ten years ago she moved into community relations and development as and SMH vice president.
Her job entailed overseeing the medical library, thrift shop, marketing, fundraising and community relations.
Allen is a very private and modest person and refuses to take credit for any of the growth and changes at SMH under her guidance.
“We all work as a team, so I really can’t take credit for anything,” she said Thursday, Sept. 29, a day before her last day.
Others in the office wouldn’t agree. They speak of her willingness to help and guide.
“Barbara has often been seen as the face of our organization,” says hospital President and Chief Executive Officer of Tim Churchill.
“Poised, professional, kind, and sensitive, she forged wonderful relationships with various members of the hospital family, including board members, medical staff, and her peers. She earned their respect and trust.
“Her thoughtful attention to the needs of patients, visitors, and volunteers helped to create a unique bond that enabled the hospital to forge long lasting relationships with community members.”
In the past 10 years Allen and the team have made a good many changes.
“When I first came here in 1993, there was one female physician on staff,” she recalls.
Ten years later there were 10 and now there are 14. This increase followed a special marketing campaign to bring women to the hospital to practice.
“One of the greatest things about this hospital,” says Allen, is that in 1948 a grassroots effort by people in the community who recognized the need for a hospital here (the closest one was in Lewiston) decided they would get one. “It took them until 1957 to raise enough money and actually open the doors,” and to this day generation after generation are still supporting the hospital.
She cites the three generations of Cummings – Charles, Stuart and Brad – the Penleys and the Bancrofts who have multiple generations serving on the hospital board.
“And their wives served on the women’s auxiliary fundraising, running the coffee shop and tending the garden.”
She mentions Winnie Clark who took over the garden’s care for years by herself and now, in her 90s, consults on its care.
“And people like Eleanor Goodwin who oversaw the thrift shop for 40 years and then volunteered there in her early 90s.”
Goodwin passed away last year.
It is difficult to get Allen to talk about her contributions, she far prefers to talk about others’.
Her last capital campaign, she says, was in 1993 for a new Emergency Department and Imaging Space. “That was a community effort.”
“Oh, and we had a very successful campaign for Tufts medical students,” – a collaborative between Maine Medical and Stephens.
Allen is the hospital’s historian and maintains a great deal of institutional memory as well.
She chuckles and wonders if numerologists would have fun with the fact that she gave notification of her intention to retire on the 23rd anniversary of the day she started at Stephens and her last day, Sept. 30, was Churchill’s 20th anniversary of his first day at SMH.
Allen says she is retiring because “I have worked all my life and last year was a transitional year for me … I realized it was time to do things I never had the opportunity to do … I learned you may not have a tomorrow so we need to find joy in each day.”
She says she has a bucket list but that she is also realistic and knows she probably won’t do everything on her list.
Some of what she hopes to do is travel – the west coast of the United States and also go to Paris, Scotland, Ireland and England – spend time with her family and start doing volunteer work.
“I think it’s important [volunteering] and I hope to find a special place to volunteer and give back.” Most likely, she says, her volunteer work will involve children, perhaps in the schools.
She has been involved in her church and with children’s programs at church, she says. She was also on the board of directors of Norway Downtown for several years, completing her service as vice president of the organization.
She has two daughters – Kimberly, 42, and Lori, 45, and almost four grandchildren – Kyle, 17, Julia, 16, and Grace, 14 – and a new grandchild on the way.
She is a bit excited about her retirement but says, “I have mixed emotions … there are so many wonderful people here. … I am going to miss both the staff and all the wonderful people in the community I have met through my development work.”
The hospital has not hired her replacement as yet.
She admits it is “a little bit scary … leaving my safety zone. For 23 years I’ve known exactly what I’m doing.”
So what did she do on Monday?
She was back at SMH, taking a yoga class.