In his traditional attire of a short-sleeved white button-down shirt and pressed black pants, Jimmy Linley hands over his hospital trustee badge. Even board members of 35 years don’t get to keep those.
“There’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s my time to go,” Linley said on his last day of serving on the Board of Trustees at OCH Regional Medical Center. “It’s been fun. It’s been hard, but that’s with anything. I love this hospital. It’s really just that simple,” said Linley.
In 1959, Linley and his late wife of 58 years and one day, Martha, traveled west from Columbus to Starkville in a car he bought at a junk yard for $59 and rented a house on Evergreen Street for $35 a month. Linley’s brother told him they were hiring at Northeast Exterminator, and now 60 years later, Linley has owned the company for 55 of those years.
“This community has been good to me and my family, and you don’t take anything out without putting something back in, and hopefully, you put more back in than what you took out. That’s what I’ve tried to do,” said Linley.
And by all accounts, Linley has succeeded at his humanitarian efforts. Linley served the community as an Oktibbeha County Supervisor in the 1970s, before being appointed as a hospital trustee in 1984 by Supervisor Frankie Edmonds and later, under Supervisor John Montgomery.
“Thirty-five years is a phenomenal period of time for a trustee to serve. I don’t know any others who have served that long,” said Sonny Kelly, former OCH Administrator (1974-2012). “He was a thoughtful trustee and a stabilizing anchor on the board. He helped guide my career and was influential in bringing new doctors to our community and expanding the hospital’s facilities and services,” explained Kelly.
When Linley took his seat on the board, the medical staff consisted of a few dozen physicians, and now, the hospital boasts a staff of more than 100 physicians. Rules and regulations in healthcare have also gone through several changes. Linley recalled a specific story about Dr. Feddy Eckford, a longtime general practitioner.
“When we decided the doctors needed to have insurance up to a million, Dr. Feddy said, ‘Boy, I ain’t buying that insurance.’ “I had to go back and tell the board that he wasn’t going to buy the insurance. Besides, no one was going to sue him anyway because he delivered most of the town. Suing Dr. Feddy would be like suing Santa Claus,” laughed Linley.
In addition to the changes in medical practice, the hospital’s services have also grown, expanding to 20 medical specialties, 10 clinics, and dozens of programs and services. But possibly the most noticeable difference of all is the hospital building itself, expanding from a basic, square building to more than 185,000 square feet.
“Our hospital is beautiful, and it’s beautiful because of the people, from the person who cleans the rooms to the doctor in surgery. We have some of the best equipment that money can buy and a highly-trained staff, and we need the people of the community to support our hospital. We don’t need to go out of town for healthcare. It’s the same principle of people going out of town to shop; it’s a bad mistake,” stated Linley.
While the growth of the hospital is foremost in Linley’s mind, the friendships he made and seeing patients leave the hospital better than they came in is what is most important to him.
“He loves the hospital and the individuals in it and was always concerned about our patients receiving the best care,” said Walter Williams, OCH Board of Trustee who served with Linley for the past 15 years. “Mr. Linley never worked against someone or by them, but he worked with them, and the influence he had on the board will be felt for years to come,” said Williams.
During his tenure, Linley worked with all three OCH Administrators and their assistant, Susan Self, who said she will miss Linley’s cheery disposition.
“Whenever you ask him how everything is going, his response is always, ‘everything is just rosy,’” said Self. “He always knew when to speak and when to keep quiet. I hope the people of this county know he’s always looked out for their best interest,” continued Self.
“Mr. Linley was instrumental in mine and my family’s decision to move to Starkville and join the team at OCH,” said current administrator/CEO Jim Jackson. “I’ve enjoyed getting to know him and appreciate his leadership and wealth of knowledge on the history of our hospital. It was certainly beneficial for me during my first year at OCH,” said Jackson.
Linley said he has no doubt that he’s leaving the hospital in good hands.
“Jim understands the hospital business, and that’s a big deal. He knows how to get along with people. People respect him and listen to him,” said Linley.
And just because Linley will no longer have a set meeting on the fourth Tuesday of each month doesn’t mean the doors won’t always be open for a visit. After all, he’s the one who said it—OCH belongs to the people of this county. Now, he’ll just have more time to travel and enjoy time with his family.
“It’s probably not the proper words, but I have my own vernacular. It’s the end of the chapter, but it ain’t the end of the book.”