In 1966, America was fighting a war and racing to land the first man on the moon. In Marshall County, a young woman was applying for a job at the Guntersville Hospital. She was hired, and spent the next half-century working her way up through departments, to a new hospital and into the 21st century.
After 53 years of employment – longer than anyone at Marshall North - Diane Butler is retiring. She started volunteering at her beloved hospital before her last day on the job.
“I love this hospital,” she said. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for this hospital, paid or unpaid.”
Looking back, Butler said she never really thought of retiring because she dearly loves working, and she always cared deeply for the people she served alongside.
“As long as I felt like working and felt like I could do it, I’ve wanted to come to work,” she said.
Butler was born in Alabama City, the baby of five girls. Her father worked for the railroad. Her mother worked in the textile mill and the family lived in the mill village around it.
Because she was already married when she graduated from Emma Samson High School, college wasn’t an option. She needed to go to work. Her first job was in Rutenberg’s Guaranty, a shoe company where she worked for a year before leaving to be the bookkeeper at her brother-in-law’s drugstore. Her oldest daughter, Dana, was two and a half years old and the youngest, Susie, was six weeks old when the family moved to Guntersville.
Butler went to work in the business office of the Guntersville Hospital, which was built just four years before on the site where Regions Bank sits today. The 60-bed hospital was led by administrator Jearold Horton and owned by the Marshall County Health Care Authority, which also owned the Boaz-Albertville Hospital and the Arab Hospital, both constructed in the mid-1950s.
“That was back when we hand-wrote statements and covered the switchboard when the operators took a break,” she recalled. “We did it all.”
She remembers American Red Cross volunteers wearing gray uniforms pushing carts to refill water pitchers in patient rooms and delivering lunch trays to patients. The ER was at the back of the hospital. When someone drove up with an emergency, they pushed a buzzer that rang in Labor & Delivery. A nurse would answer the ring and ask about the emergency before walking downstairs to evaluate the patient. She would call a doctor either at his office or at home to let him know he had a patient at the hospital. One of Butler’s many jobs was to put together the monthly call list.
She met and became longtime friends with co-worker Diane Webb, who retired from Marshall Medical in July after 38 years. The best thing about being employed by the hospital was working with the exceptional staff, Butler said.
“The people were like family members,” she recalled. “There was nothing they wouldn’t do for you, for a patient or a visitor.”
Butler was valued as a secretary, thanks in part to good training she got in high school, which included bookkeeping, typing, shorthand, business law and business English. When the hospital got its first bookkeeping machine, Butler went to the Marshall Technical School for training. She ran payroll on the machine by feeding in the information and printing it out on ledger sheets.
The first IBM computer sent her and other business office staff to classes at IBM to learn how to operate it. Her hard work paid off when she was named secretary for the hospital board in 1982.
Using shorthand, she took minutes at board meetings for three and a half decades, as well as organizing and retaining records. Her job meant that she was present for all the discussions and controversy that led up to construction of a new hospital in 1990 to replace the aging facilities in Arab and Guntersville. It was a very exciting time.
She remembers a young man coming to the old hospital to interview with board members. She never dreamed he would go on to lead the countywide hospital system over the next three decades. Gary Gore, that young man who was hired in 1989, still leads Marshall Medical Centers as CEO today.
“Diane is perhaps the most caring person I’ve ever met and that’s saying a lot since it’s been my privilege to work with many caring people,” Gore said of Butler, with whom he has worked for 30 years.
“She is the epitome of putting service above self. Knowing her has made me a better person.”
After the Guntersville-Arab Medical Center opened in 1990, Butler was named public relations coordinator. In that position, she visited patients daily and made sure they had everything they needed. The hospital typically stayed full and it took more than a day to see them all.
That position eventually led to Butler’s long career as Director of Customer Service at Marshall Medical North, at the same time she served as Board Secretary and Director of Volunteer Services. She worked closely with and gained a lot of respect for Cheryl Hays, administrator of Marshall North, who said the mark she leaves on the hospital will be a lasting one.
“You don’t work in an organization for 53 years without leaving a footprint,” she said. “Diane is an icon of Marshall North, and has had significant influence.”
Volunteers came from the Arab Hospital’s Auxiliary and the Red Cross to serve at the new hospital. Butler recalls having a total of 37 volunteers when it opened. They ran the gift shop, they awarded scholarships to high school seniors who wanted to go to college, they bought TV/VCR carts for patient rooms and sewed teddy bears for sick youngsters. They also staffed an information desk to provide patients’
room numbers to visitors.
“I was glad to be over the volunteers,” she said. “I was really excited about it.”
Of all the positions she held during her tenure, Butler said the one she enjoyed most was when she helped start a foundation for the hospital, now the highly respected Foundation for Marshall Medical Centers. She loved fundraising and turned that passion into events that generated extra money for the hospital. She fondly remembers one called Love Lights the Tree, where memorials were sold, Boy Scouts led the Pledge of Allegiance and employees sang Christmas carols. Another annual event was Healthy Heart Saturday, which generated a lot of donations.
She has no doubt that what she will miss most is the people she has come to know and love dearly.
“I know I’ve helped people but oh how they’ve helped me,” she said.
“When I lost my grandson, I couldn’t have made it without my work family. They’re just wonderful.”
In 2005, Butler was recognized as a Healthcare Hero by the North Alabama Council, a division of the Alabama Hospital Association, for her direct impact on the health and well-being of hospital patients, families and visitors.
She didn’t spend all her time working at the hospital - she also gave an enormous amount of time to civic groups throughout the community.
Butler served as president of the Heart Association of Marshall County, president of the Pilot Club of Guntersville, served on the district board of the United Methodist Women, and served as chairman of district 1 of the Alabama Council of Hospital Auxiliaries.
During Butler’s last auxiliary meeting, 30 volunteers attended, including 98-year-old Christine Fowler of Arab. They thanked her for her service and her friendship. She was moved to tears.
“I just can’t tell you what it’s meant to work with all of you,” she told them. “I just want to thank you. We all had some good times.
There’s not one person in here that I don’t love. I thank the hospital for letting me work with you. I’ve had a good time.”
On her final day of work, Marshall Medical held a retirement reception for Butler in the hospital lobby, which was packed with well-wishers.
A maple tree was planted in her honor next to the walking trail, with a plaque commemorating her contribution to the health system.
Diane met Otis Butler in 1971 when he worked for the hospital as director of respiratory care until he retired in 1997. They married in
1988 and live in Grant. She has two daughters: Dana Holaday lives with her husband, Matt, in Grant. Their children are Calder Manley, who has son Cole, and Forrest Manley, who is deceased. Susie Waites of Madison has three sons: Chase Waites of Harrison, Ohio, Hunter Waites and Drake Waites, both of Madison. Chase has a daughter, Arya Waites Diane has two stepchildren: Chris Butler and wife Amy, of Grant, have two daughters, Ally and Slone; Becky Walker and her daughter Samantha Hornbuckle, also live in Grant.