COURT HOUSE – Madeline Brandon would still be volunteering at Burdette Tomlin Memorial Hospital, but her family told her it was time to stop, since she had taken a few falls, injured her back and now needs a cane.
She is 97, after all.
People tell her she doesn’t dress, talk or act like she’s lived over nine decades. They’re right.
She was interviewed last week in the living room of the home she shares here with her son Fred Clark, who is 70; daughter-in-law Gwen; grandson Ken and his wife Moira.
Brandon retired in April, after being a volunteer at the hospital for 19 years. For a number of those years, she managed the gift shop, which required her to do ordering, scheduling of volunteers to staff it and organizing displays.
She also worked at the front desk, giving passes and directions to visitors.
In addition to 9,500 hours of this volunteer work, she was also a member of the hospital’s auxiliary.
As president of the organization in the early 1990s, she began to have discussions with her daughter-in-law, who works in the out patient department at Burdette, about getting a helipad at the hospital for patient transport.
“She fought for it for three years,” Moira Clark said.
“People thought I was crazy,” said Brandon, “to have a helicopter land near the daycare center.”
She said someone suggested they put it on stilts but that would have made it harder on the patient, she said. The whole point was to get the patient on the helicopter with as little handling and ground transport as possible.
“The less you handle the patient the better for them,” she said.
Someone asked when the helicopters would be landing, claiming it might disturb a napping relative, Brandon said, shaking her head in disbelief even now and asking “That’s more important than a life?”
In November 1996, she stood in line for a ribbon-cutting ceremony, along with the hospital’s president and board chairman, the current auxiliary president who had just replaced her, and the director of the emergency department, and saw her dream become a reality.
Not only did she lobby for its construction, the auxiliary also raised $250,000 for it.
Referring to the recent opening of the heart catheterization lab, Brandon said the hospital could not have gotten certification for that without the helipad in place.
“It was a needed thing,” Brandon said, and while she was still at the hospital daily, when a helicopter would be heard and a certain board member saw her, he would say, “There goes Madeline.”
She will continue to knit the little caps she has made for years for newborns.
She’s not sure if she will do special holiday colors this year: red, white and blue for Fourth of July; red and green for Christmas.
“They don’t make her favorite wool anymore,” said her granddaughter-in-law.
Asked how many knit caps she has made, Brandon was modest. Moira Clark said it probably was 10 a week, which would measure into the thousands. But she would take credit for just five hundred or so.
She is not shy about the benefits of knitting though.
“If you are tense, take knitting needles out and you will calm down,” she said.
She thinks of those she volunteered with fondly, recalling a nice group of people, both men and women.
“There was no back-biting, we meshed together nicely,” she said. “One women spoiled all of us by making cookies and baking cakes.”
She said it was always said, “at any of our affairs that the hospital doesn’t pay them, because they are priceless. They’re right.”
If the hospital had to pay for every little thing they do, bringing something to a nurse on a floor, helping to transport patients by wheelchair, the cost would be enormous, said Brandon.
“You have to feel you’re doing it because you want to,” she said. Through the years, in corresponding with friends, when she would tell them what she was doing, some would ask her, “What do they pay you?”
They didn’t seem to understand, she said. “You give, you don’t take.”
Along with her knitting she will keep herself busy with her garden.
She emphasized that the home is her son’s and not hers. He is her only child, but since he had five children she is now blessed with an extended family, and is a great-great grandmother.
She also said, “It’s Fred’s fault,” when asked why she came to live in Cape May County, since she was “born and raised in Hackensack, like my father before me.”
They lived in Hazlet for a while before coming here in 1988 and she volunteered at Bayshore Community Hospital near there and had a reference letter from them when she came to Burdette.
She pointed to a Rose of Sharon bush in the back yard that she said she smuggled out of the yard of her former home.
Her grandson helps her with the garden. They go together to pick out flowers; she pays for them, he plants them, she said. His wife “does what I used to do, the weeding,” she said.
“We make our house the prettiest on the block,” she said, proudly pointing to the purple irises that are just beginning to bloom.
Brandon worked in an office in a paper mill before marrying her first husband, Howard Clark, who died in 1963. She also “worked in a factory grinding pinion gears,” during the war, she said.
Her resume also includes working in the trust department of a bank, which probably honed the skills she used to run the hospital’s gift shop. Asked if she would have wanted to have a career in a health field, she said no.
Her second husband was Thomas Brandon, her daughter-in-law’s father. She survived him as well.
Her mother and only sister lived to be 90, she said. Brandon’s next birthday is Aug. 19.
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