by Ed Marcum
June Christine Smith’s 50-year nursing career has included everything from riding along with expectant mothers in ambulances to caring for severely disabled children to doing a patient’s shopping.
That last chore, she didn’t mind at all because Smith, a Morningside resident, says she loves to shop and has even written a book about shopping etiquette.
“I am an admitted shopaholic,” she said.
Smith started her nursing career in 1948 at the long-closed Knoxville General Hospital when black patients were kept to a separate wing of the building, and she ended her career in May at the Knox County School system’s Fort Sanders Development Center, serving severely retarded children of all races.
Her co-workers hate to see her go. Connie Mitchell, a teacher at the center, said Smith was always upbeat, was never phased by any medical emergency and never failed to get a smile from the children. She was always there. Even though she was older than many of the children’s grandparents, she always had lot of energy and was never sick, Mitchell said.
“She said she was older than the building, so we called her Miss Chris.”
When she retired, the staff of the center made her a quilt on which the children Smith cared for had placed painted imprints of their hand- or footprints.
“I just love the children, and I will be going back to visit,” Smith said.
Smith, who grew up in East Knoxville and attended Austin High School and Knoxville College, said her first job was in nursing. She chose it because there were few other job opportunities for black people except in careers where they would be serving other blacks. Smith started as a nurse’s aide in the black wing at Knoxville General but studied books given her by the hospital, took a state board exam and became a licensed practical nurse.
She worked for 15 years in the hospital’s maternity wing, often riding with mothers who needed additional treatment atthe University of Tennessee Medical Center. Smith also worked 18 years at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center, with the Florence Crittenton Agency and as a nurse in Virginia for eight years.
She spent several years as a private nurse, working for a number of affluent Knoxville citizens. One was Virginia Gluck, who lived at the Farragut Hotel on Gay Street. Smith got to shop for Gluck and enjoy other perks.
“I got to go to Regas restaurant before any black people could go,” she said.
That was in the days of segregation, but Gluck would call and tell the restaurant she was bringing her nurse, who was black.
Another interesting patient Smith served as a private nurse was Eugenia Williams, Knoxville’s Coca-Cola heiress who lived a life of carefully guarded privacy at the Lyons View Drive home she has willed to the University of Tennessee. When Williams wanted lunch, she would often give Smith some money and ask her to go get some fast food.
“She would say, ‘Now you can go to any fast-food place you want to, but bring me back some Krystal hamburgers,’ ” Smith said.
The highlight of her career, though, was the last five years, which she spent with the children at the Fort Sanders center. Smith cared for those with the most severe mental retardation. They were usually stunted physically as well as mentally and required constant care, but Smith said her time with them was happy, not depressing.
“When I first started to work there, I would come in depressed, but I would get these smiles from the children. There was one little boy that all I would have to do is approach him and he would break out in the biggest smile. It was so gratifying to know you had made someone happy like that,” she said.
Smith keeps a scrapbook with photos of the children she served and will go through it, telling what each child was like.
Mitchell said Smith always had a positive attitude that even the worst circumstances wouldn’t seem to shake. A few years ago, Smith’s husband, Ellis Smith, died, and she lost sons McBobby Jones to emphysema and Ellis Smith to diabetes, all within eight months. She has one living son, Turan Smith.
Mitchell remembers attending one of the funerals, where Smith gave her a big hug at the news Mitchell was about to be married.
“She was so happy for me that she could overcome her own sadness,” Mitchell said.
Smith said she kept her sanity during that awful time by embarking on a book. She has always loved to shop. She visited her first mall 60 years ago in Connecticut and goes mall shopping every chance she gets.
“I was at East Towne Mall (now Knoxville Center) the first day it opened,” she said.
Smith noticed that a lot of rudeness goes on at the mall, so she has written a book, “Mall Manners,” which she is trying to get published. It chastises people for jumping in front of others on the escalator, being rude to salespeople and other offenses.
Now that she is retired, Smith said she will be looking to write other books. Regardless of the subject, she says she will probably be doing a lot of research at the mall.
Caption: photo (Color) June Smith displays a quilt bearing the hand- and footprints of the children she cared for at Fort Sanders Development Center. Saul Young/News-Sentinel staff
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel – Wednesday, July 14, 1999 – Edition: Final – Section: North Zone – Page: N2