Community remembers ‘Mr. Hospital’
by Robert Joseph Baker | April 21, 2015 3:18 am
Last Updated: April 21, 2015 at 12:27 am
They called him Mr. Hospital.
Charles Robert Hester went by many names throughout his 50-plus years with Clarendon Memorial Hospital, both as a full-time employee and as a retiree who worked as a weekend administrator.
“He was one of the nicest men I ever knew,” said former Clarendon Health System CEO Ed Frye. “He was the guy at the hospital. He was the one everyone wanted to see when they came in.”
So ingrained by 1973 into the hospital’s reputation was Hester that when Frye was on his first time as administrator with the hospital, those with complaints went over his head, so to speak.
“I recall a story one time when I first came here in 1973 to be the administrator, and he was the assistant administrator,” Frye said. “A fellow came into my office wanting to make a complaint. I told him I would be glad to talk to him about it, and he told me no, that he wanted to see the guy who runs the place and started asking where Mr. Hester was.”
When Frye returned to the hospital in 1989, Hester was still around.
“His entire career there was in healthcare management and administration,” Frye said. “He survived numerous administrators and CEOs during his time with the hospital, and he could tell you anything about it, and just about as much about Clarendon County.”
Former Sen. John C. Land III said Hester is a main reason for the hospital’s success.
“He is one of the reasons that our modern-day hospital is still so successful,” Land said. “There was a foundation he lay there in the administration of that hospital that still exists to this day.”
Born Aug. 8, 1931, near Clarksville, Tennessee, Hester was a son of the late James Bert Hester and Tyson Lowder Hester. At 2, he moved with his family to Wilson, where Tyson Lowder Hester had grown up. He spent a short time after graduation from Manning High School as the bookkeeper for the Clarendon County School Board.
He kept that position when he started with the hospital in the 1950s, not long after the facility first opened. He rose quickly to be the assistant administrator, retiring from that position in 1996. He had spent 39 years with the hospital, but he wasn’t done.
Hester spent so much time at the hospital, Frye said, that he took most of his meals there.
“In what free time he gave himself, being a pianist and organist, he would come back and hold church for the patients in guest care,” Frye said. “He just loved the hospital and people in general. He loved being able to help.”
Hester also played for his church; he told The Manning Times in 2011, shortly before his 80th birthday, that he began playing for Union United Methodist Church as a senior in high school in 1950. He said last year that when he began working at the hospital, there were just 52 beds.
“And we only had 100 employees,” he said. “The hospital had the only elevator in town until they installed one in the post office.”
He said that folks had to ring a bell to be let into the emergency room, which didn’t operate around the clock as it does today. There were no ambulances.
“If someone had to be transported, a rector rode along in a funeral home vehicle,” Hester said with a wry smile. “Hospital staff members were taught basic first aid so they could be first responders.”
When talking about the hospital in 2014, Hester remembered the first EKG.
“That was in the 1950s,” he said. “We had the first CT scan in the 1970s.”
Hospital Public Affairs Director Jeffrey Black said Hester always had a smile on his face.
“No matter when or where you saw him, he had that smile,” Black said. “But even more than his smile, you sensed that he genuinely loved Clarendon Memorial and cared about the patients and employees here. He greeted everyone who came into our hospital as if they were his family. We have lost a kind a humble man.”
Natalie Davis worked alongside Hester for nearly 30 years, she said.
“Mr. Hester was a kind and gentle man who dedicated his life to others,” she said. “He gave tirelessly to his family, his church and the patients and staff of Clarendon Memorial. He was also a great personal friend and will be greatly missed by all.”
The hospital’s current administrator, CEO Richard Stokes, agreed. Stokes said when he first met him about 10 years ago, he had no idea who Hester was or “why he was at the hospital.”
“I stopped what I was doing and we sat in my office and talked,” Stokes said. “I learned that this man was instrumental in the development of Clarendon Memorial Hospital. Since that day, he often stopped by and told us some stories from ‘the day’ and how things have really changed. Surprisingly, some things have not changed.”
Stokes said he will miss the “yellow papers” awaiting him each Monday. Hester would leave Stokes notes on what happened over the weekend on such papers.
“He would tell me any observations he had and any suggestions he thought I needed to know,” Stokes said. “Monday, as I walked up to the counter, the yellow paper was missing. The fabric of who we are as an organization and community has been strengthened by the actions and deeds of Mr. Hester, and he will be truly missed by his hospital family.”