Interview with Pat Farthing, RN CRNA of Valle Crusis

Interviewee: Roberta Burkett Farthing

Interviewer: David Houston Walker, Jr.

Date: May 28, 2013

Location: Roberta Farthing’s home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Time: 40:58 minutes


David Walker: This is Dave Walker and Roberta Farthing, and we’re in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. May 28, 2013; around 12:30. (Looking at a newspaper clipping, mentioning RF.) So, that’s from a guy who was your patient in Winston?

Roberta Farthing: No, I was a nurse in training.

DW: Is that supposed to be you or him?

RF: No, this is JoJo. It was a “JoJo Says;” he always forecast the weather.

DW: So, is that something you said?

RF: No, that’s something he wrote.

DW: Oh, it’s just your name?

RF: Okay, these are the ones, particularly of when I graduated. (Looking at Grace Hospital annuals.)

DW: From Grace?

RF: Yes. This is the “History of the Cross” (a history of Grace Hospital as a nurse training institution).

DW: Are you in these pictures?

RF: I’m not in that one.

DW: So, there were two Grace Hospitals?

RF: No.

DW: There was only one?

RF: Yes. Here, I am. This is of the nurses’ home. This was built on to it.

DW: I think this is on the highway in Morganton on the way to Asheville.

RF: This was one of my supervisors. This girl was in my class. She was my next door neighbor. This was my instructor.

DW: What was her name?

RF: Ms. Parker. And, this was Dr. Kibler. He taught us anatomy. And, this was Ms. Brady; she was head of OB, obstetrics and nursery. And, this was our dietician. And then, this was Ms. Brady again. These girls were in my class. This girl was my roommate. She was a goody-two-shoes.

DW: haha really?

RF: hahaha yeah.

DW: Where did she go after?

RF: She went to Lexington. I talked everybody into going to Lexington to work.

DW: haha why did you do that?

RF: Not Lexington, Valdese. And then, that’s when I got...

DW: Did you want to go to Valdese?

RF: Yeah, but then, I got tuberculosis and had to go to the sanitorium. This was our house mother. Here’s my roommate again. And here I am again.

DW: Did you play a lot of softball?

RF: hahaha

DW: You’re more a cheerleader?

RF: hahah yeah. Here we are playing table tennis. This was our little kitchen. This was our lounge. Here I am. And, we rode a lot. This lady was our librarian, of medical records. And here I am. This was our garden. This was the walkway over from the nurses home over to the hospital. This was an x-ray. And this was a lab. We didn’t have a lab before. He (the male doctor in the photograph) came the first year I was there. This girl was in my class.

DW: John Reese came?

RF: Yes. And I put this in there. This is about Frances Farthing. I turned it down there. I was the last class in the Nurse Cadet Corp.

DW: Oh, and this, did you have to pay a fee or something?

RF: No. We got a check and that was the amount we got per month.

DW: So what did that mean to be in the Nurse Corp?

RF: Well since I was the last class, I didn’t have a uniform, but these were the uniforms. This was the summer uniform and this was the winter. It was funny. World War II was at its height, and they would list them (the nurses) as somewhere in Belgium or somewhere in, this doctor was in Corsica, and the Philippines.

DW: So when you signed up, did you think that you were going to get shipped off somewhere?

RF: Yes. I was hoping. The war was over. I had to wait a year before I could go into training. I wasn’t old enough. 

DW: How old were you?

RF: Seventeen. You had to be Seventeen and a half. When I graduated from high school, I was just sixteen.

DW: When did you go to Washington?

RF: That summer. See, I was just killing time.

DW: But, you worked with the FBI, didn’t you?

RF: No, I worked with the Agriculture Department. My mother wouldn’t let me work with the F.B.I. but I wanted to haha.

DW: They hired you when you were sixteen?

RF: Just barely sixteen.

DW: Did they know how old you were?

RF: haha yes.

DW: So, I guess, one of these questions that Dr. Pollitt has is: Why did you become a nurse? And you said, Glovier.

RF: Yes. Ms. Glovier, Tiny Glovier. I was about five or six, and she inspired me. From that time on, I always wanted to be a nurse.

DW: That’s what you would tell people?

RF: Yes. So when I went in training, we had a six months probation period. We were called “probies.” And we had, our uniform, when we were probies, we just got the bottom. We didn’t get the bib. We got a bib whenever we had been there six months. And then, when we had been there a year, we got the cap and a cross. And then, when we had been there two years, we got a black band to go around the cap. When we graduated, we got the cross engraved. It was plain up until then. But then when we graduated, the year, the date, and our initials were put on it.

DW: Do you still have yours?

RF: I couldn’t find it. hahah. I don’t know what I did with it.

DW: Its probably somewhere.

RF: Its somewhere. And, we had to take the state board after we graduated to get our registration. The state board was given in Raleigh.

DW: So you had to go down to Raleigh?

RF: Yes. And take it.

DW: When was that?

RF: See, everybody else went in ‘48, but I had to wait until ‘49 because I was in the sanitorium. So I went down in ‘49, no ‘50, I was working in Boone and I went down to Raleigh to take the state boards.

DW: Was Ms. Glovier out of Boone? Did she travel around?

RF: She was in Valle Crucis at the Episcopal school. Later she came and went to Boone.

DW: Were there a lot of nurses at the Mission?

RF: No.

DW: Was it still a mission then or was it a school?

RF: It was a school.

DW: But they had stopped teaching classes, when did they stop teaching classes, when the War came?

RF: My sister was in, probably around 1940. Somewhere along in there.

DW: And, you didn’t really go to school there.

RF: I went to the first two grades there. And then, I went to public school at the old Valle Crucis school. And then, I went to high school at Cove Creek.

DW: Did they have nurses there?

RF: No.

DW: Could you talk about Dr. Perry? Did you have a lot of interaction with him?

RF: I’m sorry?

DW: Perry.

RF: After I graduated, I went back home and worked for Boone for a year in the operating room and I saw Dr. Perry then and worked with him. He took out a lot of tonsils. And then, we went to Nashville, and I worked for about a year in the operating room there. And then, we came back to Boone, and then when we came here, I worked at the old City Hospital in the operating room for a year, and then I went into anesthesia.

DW: What would you do in the operating room?

RF: Scrub nurse and circulating nurse. And then, I became a nurse anesthetist after a years training. And worked at City and Forsyth for sixteen years.

DW: When you were younger, what was it about Tiny Glovier that made you?

RF: Her uniform probably was what got me first. And then, she was so kind and gentle and loving and caring and compassionate. And she could help people. When they had that tonsil clinic, I was really, really awed by that.

DW: Where did they have that?

RF: They used one of the school buildings. They used the rooms in the dormitories for the beds. And turned some of the lounges into the operating rooms.

DW: Was Frances Farthing a contemporary of hers?

RF: No. Frances Farthing wasn’t a part of that until she came to Grace in 1960. So I didn’t know her. I knew her long before she became a nurse.

DW: Oh really?

RF: Yes. They lived right across the street from us. They lived in that curve there, right before you hit Clark’s Creek. The Flood came and washed their house away.

DW: Oh really?

RF: Yes. She had a sister who was a teacher. Her brother, a bachelor was the same age as me. And then, there were twins. She was Mary Hazel’s first cousin.

DW: Oh okay.

RF: Her father, Frances’s father and Mary Hazel’s father were brothers.

DW: And so, she was a little older than you?

RF: Quite a bit.

DW: So could you talk about going to the sanitorium?

RF: This was after I had graduated, and I went to the sanitorium for six months, worked for six months, got pleurisy, and had to go back to bed. And that time, when I got out, haha I came home. But, I never was positive. My x-ray just showed a scar.

DW: And then, when you got to Forsyth, didn’t they test you, and you were like, I knew I didn’t have it.

RF: Yes.

DW: So in Boone what did you do? Work in the operating room?

RF: Emergency room and operating room.

DW: Why did you go to Boone after that instead of going to Valdese?

RF: Well see, my home was in Valle Crucis, so I stayed close to home.

DW: You lived in Boone though?

RF: Yes.

DW: And that’s where you met Granddaddy?

RF: Yes. I met him. My sister had Patsy, and he took Patsy home, Patsy and Sis home from the hospital in the ambulance. And I met him then.

DW: How old is Patsy?

RF: She was born in 1950.

DW: And so, he took Patsy home to Valle Crucis?

RF: And so, I decided then that I was going to date him and marry him.

DW: You had seen him around? You hadn’t, but right then you decided you were going to date him and marry him? haha

RF: hahah and we met in May of 1950 and we were married in 1951, in January 1951.

DW: In Valle Crucis?

RF: Yes. At Holy Cross.

DW: So he would bring people in?

RF: He brought people to the emergency room and took people home from the hospital. At that time, Reins Sturdivant funeral home had an ambulance service. There is a funeral home in Boone, there are two now, but it’s no longer Reins Sturdivant. Reins Sturdivant is in North Wilkesboro, the main one.

DW: How would that work? Would people call up the funeral home and say that they had somebody sick?

RF: Yes.

DW: So he would bring them in and you would operate on them?

RF: Yes.

DW: Did you like that?

RF: Oh, very much. But in the emergency room....I’ll tell you something if you turn that thing off.

DW: Okay

[Tape paused]

DW: It was an experience?

RF: Yeah hahah.

DW: What kinds of things would you see? What kinds of operations would you do?

RF: We did everything. We had a major and a minor operating room. The minor was mostly for tonsillectomies, but in the major, we did appendectomies, breast tumors, and hysterectomies, thyroidectomies.

DW: And by the fifties, nurses and doctors weren’t travelling out to places?

RF: Everything was consolidated there at the hospital. 

DW: When they traveled out, when you were younger, would they stay for a few days?

RF: No. It was just mostly clinics, like I went to for polio or typhoid or something like that.

DW: And you knew they were coming?

RF: Yes. They advertised. And, we made arrangements to go.

DW: Now, did someone go, I saw pictures, maybe Ralph should this to me of a hospital in Banner Elk. Was there a hospital in Banner Elk that y’all went to?

RF: Yes. These were some pictures that I got.

DW: That’s of the Mission.

RF: That’s the Mission and the Church was right here. This was the old St. Ives Tea Room.

DW: Oh really

RF: This was the poultry. All this...

DW: Those were orchards.

RF: This was where the old barn is now.

DW: You know, I went to a square dance there last weekend.

RF: Did you? There’s Ralph and I.

DW: That picture’s great.

RF: That was in 1937. This was taken of Up Home. This is of the old barn. This was the road to Ralph’s cabin. This was the corn crib.

DW: Oh, it was up there? I always thought it was back further up the cove.

RF: This was the garden and the house was over here. This was Down Home.

DW: What’s that a picture of?

RF: Down Home.

DW: I mean specifically. Just it?

RF: This was the chimney and this was our old shed. This was a nurse, a friend of Momma’s that I was inspired by too.

DW: What’s her name?

RF: Binfield.

DW: Was she in Valle Crucis.

RF: Yes. She went to school with Momma. What does this say?

DW: It’s a studio. Oh, it’s a postcard. Is that her name? Oh it’s...

RF: That’s Momma.

DW: And so, she grew up in Valle Crucis and became a nurse?

RF: Yes.

DW: Did your mom go to the Mission School?

RF: Yes. See that picture over there is of her and the people in her class. And that was her. This is a picture Daddy carried in his billfold.

DW: Is that of her? And those are hearts on her...he carried that in his billfold? Where do you think he...Is this 1909?

RF: Yes. And these were.

DW: Y’all went to Tweetsie? We took Julie to Tweetsie. You know I can’t believe they didn’t take me there.

RF: I can’t believe they didn’t either.

DW: Until last year.

RF: This was when I was in the Sanitorium.

DW: Who’s that?

RF: That’s one of the doctors.

DW: So what would you do? You would just sit there and read?

RF: You had to lay in bed all the time.

DW: While you weren’t sick?

RF: And read.

DW: Did you play pranks on people?

RF: hahaha of course I did. And this was Aunt Franny. You’ve seen her before. This was a picture, they were clowning around. This was a still. A whiskey still. This was Uncle Tom and Uncle Monroe and a friend that used to come with Ralph.

DW: One of Ralph’s friends or his dad?

RF: His dad.

DW: Charlie Ritter?

RF: Rich. He was from Statesville. This was when we went to the National Cathedral.

DW: Who was this?

RF: A kid that lived up the street from us. His mother and I were close friends. He went to school with Julie. I think he was in Julie’s class. These are the locks in Washington.

DW: Would y’all go to Tweetsie a lot?

RF: This was one time when Pat Belton, our next door neighbor, went and Sue, the Motsingers and us would go.

DW: When y’all would go up when my mom was young, would y’all stay in Valle Crucis or just go up for the day?

RF: Both. We divided our time. Sometimes we would stay at Home and sometimes we would stay over in Boone.

DW: Would Granddaddy go over to Valle Crucis? Did he get along with your uncles?

RF: Yes.

DW: So why did you want to become a nurse anesthesiologist?

RF: Well it just impressed me that they could put people to sleep and wake them up after an operation. And I had already decided to go to Baptist. Baptist had training for a nurse anesthesiologist, and I had been accepted. And the day that I found out that I was accepted was the day that I found out that I was pregnant with Julie.

DW: So you waited?

RF: Yeah. And then I went to City Hospital.

DW: Oh, and they taught you at City?

RF: Yes. Because I knew all the people there.

DW: You had already been working there.

RF: Knew the doctors and nurses.

DW: So what did you do in Nashville? I know we’ve talked about it. Which hospital?

RF: St. Thomas. It was a Roman Catholic hospital, and I worked in the operating room there.

DW: When Granddaddy was an ambulance driver, when he...

RF: Went to mortuary college at Gupton Jones.

DW: And then when you all moved to Winston, did he still do the ambulance or was it consolidated with the county?

RF: Then when we came down here was when, they did the ambulance around here up until about 1962 because I remember when I had that wreck, he was on another call. It was fortunate that he went on the other call instead of to come and pick me up.

DW: That would of been a surprise.

RF: Oh, believe me that would have been a disaster.

DW: And you never lost a patient when you would wake them up?

RF: [shakes head]

DW: No. Was that rare?

RF: There was one brain surgery that we did where the patient died on the table, but..

DW: That wasn’t your fault.

RF: No.

DW: Did they give you an award?

RF: I got a couple of pins for longevity, but that was about all.

DW: So let’s see these other questions. So where did you go to nursing school? You went to Grace in Morganton.

RF: Yes.

DW: Why’d you chose that one?

RF: It was an Episcopal hospital, and my mother thought that since it was Episcopal, it would be okay to go. She really didn’t approve

DW: What did she want you to do?

RF: Well there were three choices. You were either a teacher, a secretary, or a nurse. And I didn’t want to be a teacher or a secretary.

DW: But you knew you were going to be some type of professional.

RF: Oh yeah.

DW: You weren’t going to stay.

RF: Oh yeah.

DW: And your sister became a teacher?

RF: A beautician.

DW: Where did she go for that?

RF: North Wilkesboro.

DW: And so what were the other choices of where you could go besides Morganton?

RF: Charlotte and Durham were the other two.

DW: And so Morganton was closer.

RF: Yes. And it was smaller.

DW: Did you have to go to chapel, since it was Episcopal.

RF: Oh yeah. We had to go to Chapel every morning before we went on duty. At six-thirty, we went to Chapel and went on duty at seven. But, this was during the end of the war, and there was a flu epidemic. And, sometimes we had to work split shifts, like seven to eleven, three to seven. And, there weren’t enough rooms because there was an influenza epidemic, so we had patients in the halls. So that’s when we had to work split shifts.

DW: How long did that last?

RF: Six months. And then, when I was a junior, we had to go to orthopedic hospital in Gastonia.

DW: Would y’all take the bus down there?

RF: I can’t remember; hahaha. Dave, this has been a long time ago. Wonder what was in one of these?

DW: What was your favorite part about Grace? Did you like it?

RF: The operating room. I didn’t like medical nursing. It was too slow and not dramatic enough for me.

DW: What’s medical nursing?

RF: It was just general?

DW: Taking people’s temperature?

RF: Yes.

DW: So were there African American nurses at Grace?

RF: [inaudible]. We had what we called the Colored Department. And, we had to rotate. Might of been in here.

DW: So it was segregated?

RF: Yes. It was segregated.

DW: Was Boone segregated?

RF: Hmm?

DW: Was Boone segregated? [RF, nods] yes, it was.

RF: City?

DW: Boone.

RF: Boone. No.

DW: But, City was? City Hospital?

RF: No. Anyhow, they had orthopedics at Gastonia Hospital and they had a lot of polio patients there.

DW: Oh, really.

RF: And as a result, I think we stayed maybe a month. And, it was fun. I enjoyed that.

DW: What would you do?

RF: Just regular nursing, but a lot of it was pediatric, children’s, so we got to. In fact, there was a children’s hospital.

DW: Did you know people who had polio in the Mountains?

RF: Well, yeah, one person, she had had it when she was a small child. And, she was in a body cast. Oh, it was. I mean, they didn’t know what to do for people. And, they put them in iron lungs because it would paralyze their breathing muscles, their lungs.

DW: Was it scary?

RF: Yes.

DW: My mom had the polio vaccine?

RF: Yeah.

DW: I remember she saying.



RF: The SALK. S-A-L-K. Okay, let’s see what else we have.

DW: Well, what didn’t you like about Grace? You liked it?

RF: I liked all, except the medical part.

DW: Right. And did you know any of the nurses beforehand, anyone training with you?

RF: No.

DW: Did they come from the Mountains too? Or where did they?

RF: They came from mostly the. Well, there was one girl from Blowing Rock, Deep Gap, and one from Blowing Rock. But, most of the others were from Hickory and Valdese. While I was in training there, we had two women that came in the class after me that had been in the WAVES. By the way, I had saved you a book. Didn’t know if you would want to look at this or not, sometime.

DW: Oh, yeah. I think I’ve seen that [a book on North Carolina’s World War II veterans]. Did we get this in Wilmington?

RF: No.

DW: No.

RF: Are you interested in this [Blue Ridge Parkway book]?

DW: Yes. That’s a pretty book.

RF: This is where Pete and I went on our first date at Doughton Park.

DW: Oh, really?

RF: Yes. On Memorial Day.

DW: Would y’all go up on the Parkway?

RF: Yes. See. And, this was in 1950, so it was just fairly recent. So, I didn’t know if you wanted to take and look at these or not.

DW: Maybe that one. Is Granddaddy in this one? I don’t think so. Would you go on the Parkway often?

RF: Yes. We did a lot of our courtin’ out on the Parkway.

DW: You know.

RF: They had drive-in theaters at that time. hahah.

DW: On the Parkway?

RF: No. In Boone, we went to the drive-in a lot.

DW: Danny said that he did a lot of his dates on the Parkway too, with Charlotte. You already talked about.

RF: Memorable event.

DW: What about one at Grace? Or, was there one from your childhood in Valle Crucis that you remember?    

RF: I remember. I don’t have a most memorable event. What advice do you have for the next generation of nurses? This is just a very worthwhile occupation.

DW: What’s special about being a nurse versus being a doctor?

RF: Well, probably it’s the time element. And two, and anesthesia is a big responsibility. It’s probably much more so than any other type of nursing because you hold somebody else’s life in your hand.

DW: Did you know what you were getting into when you wanted to?

RF: Yes.

DW: Do you think that if you could have done it, you would have become a doctor?

RF: No. That never interested me, mainly because there were very few female doctors. In fact, the first female doctor that I had much to do with was in Nashville.

DW: Was she your age?

RF: She was doing her residency at that time. And, I liked her alright. And then, when I came to City, of course, the first woman doctor in Winston-Salem was there. She used to live right down here.

DW: Oh, really?

RF: Yes. Dr. Beninjer. She was orthopedic. Course as they come.

DW: So do you have a memorable story? In Boone or at Forsyth?

RF: I expect my most memorable ones were when we would receive accident victims who were of course not prepared for surgery. They were the most challenging because when accident victims came in, they were usually in very poor condition. And, you didn’t have a background, a history, on them when you put them to sleep. You didn’t know what had happened to them previously. You tried to get it, but for the most part, it was very sketchy.

DW: Was your mom happy that you became a nurse once you did?

RF: Once I got through training, she was very happy that I did. Up until then, she wasn’t very much in favor of it.

DW: And, there’s question ten.

RF: When I was in anesthesia, we had to put the patients, the mothers, asleep for them to have a baby, and that was a rewarding position because you were the first one to see the baby. And, it was a happy time.

DW: Were things all that different from Boone to like Nashville?

RF: I didn’t do any anesthesia except at City and Forsyth.

DW: But at the hospitals. Were they different?

RF: Very. Boone was a very small, sheltered one. And, St. Thomas was very challenging because of the different types of surgery done there. A lot of urology. And a lot of.

DW: It’s still big.

RF: Yes. A lot of orthopedics, which I didn’t have the experience from, but I enjoyed the experience. I didn’t particularly care for the circulating part in the operating room, but when I was a scrub nurse, to be a part of the actual operation was very interesting.     


Interviewee: Roberta Burkett Farthing

Interviewer: David Houston Walker, Jr.

Date: June 6, 2013

Location: Roberta Farthing’s home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Time: 4:50 minutes

Context: After initial interview, DW set up time to show RF partial transcript of interview. RF prepared list of additional points to mention prior to this meeting, missed in initial interview.


Roberta Farthing: Okay, when I went to the Sanitorium, I worked in the operating room. And, we also did neumo-therapy, which meant that you injected air into the lungs to collapse it, so that you would have an opportunity for it to heal from the tuberculosis. And, the other form of treatment was thoracoplasty, where the ribs were removed to collapse the lung. That was for the second stage.

David Walker: When did you work there?

RF: In ‘49. 1949. After I graduated from training.

DW: You went to work there, then they put you in there.

RF: They put me in there, and I got better and went to work. Then, I got pleurisy and then, when I got out, I came home.

DW: So, where was the Sanitorium?

RF: It was in Black Mountain, North Carolina. They had two buildings, one was for the women and one was for the men. And each building had three floors. The worst cases, the six people, were on the third floor. And the medium were second floor. And the people who were ready to go home were on the first floor.

DW: You stayed on the first floor the whole time?

RF: Until I got pleurisy, where I stayed on the second floor for a short time, about six weeks.

DW: And you went to the same one?

RF: Yes.

DW: How did you pick that one? Did they just send you?

RF: That was, there were only two in the state. One was in the eastern part and that was where everybody in western North Carolina went to. And, you wanted to know about the most memorable things, those were probably part of the memorable occasions. I don’t know if it was because I was afraid that, that might be my treatment eventually.

DW: That they might inject you or.

RF: Yeah. No that I might become that type patient.

DW: Is that it?

RF: This is when I learned anesthesia. I learned how to give ether. We started out with vinethene and then ether for tonsillectomies. And then for general surgery, we gave nitrous oxide and ether and oxygen.

DW: And that’s when you learned at City?

RF: Yes. And, we also had cyclopropane. One of the earliest drugs that I had was chloroform, and I learned to give that at Boone. We gave that to patients having babies.

DW: I think you may have said it, but I haven’t gotten to it in the transcript, when you saw, when you put pregnant women out, and they were delivering babies, and that’s what got you into wanting to do it?

RF: Yeah. And another memorable thing was when I was in training, the first time that I saw somebody die was the first patient for this doctor too. And, he and I just sat on the edge of the bed and cried. That really made an impression on me. And, I didn’t know if you wanted to take a picture of that or not.

DW: Okay, I’ll take a picture of that. Was there anything else on your list?

RF: No.

DW: Okay. Well, I’ll just keep adding to it, okay? And, I still have twelve minutes left out of forty; it took a long time. I’ll shut this off.