Meet the volunteers

Pictured here are two of the volunteers who work at Northern Hospital of Surry County, Coley Jones and Patty Carpenter, at a recent volunteer function. -

Editor’s Note: A handful of the Northern Hospital of Surry County volunteers are profiled here.

Mary Alice Payne

“I love volunteering,” says 63-year-old Mary Alice Payne, who welcomes patients to Northern Hospital’s Day Surgery Unit two days a week – from 5:30 a.m. until about 2:30 p.. For the past two years, she has helped ease the nervousness of patients as they await the start of a scheduled procedure – such as a colonoscopy, cataract removal, or orthopaedic procedure. She’s also responsible for escorting patients to the correct procedural room that will be used for their treatment.

“I live only 22 miles away, so I frequently see my neighbors and friends who are coming to the hospital for their care,” she says. “They’re very happy to see a friendly face; and I always assure them that, like all volunteers, I do not have access to any of their private medical information.”

Prior to volunteering, Mary teamed-up with Dempsey, her husband of 47 years, as the married long-distance truck drivers criss-crossed the United States for more than 20 years. “We each took 10-hour shifts driving an 18-wheeler – to deliver furniture to Los Angeles and then haul produce back to the East Coast,” she says. During those long trips, Mary thought frequently about how she wanted to eventually do volunteer work in the hospital because of the wonderful care her friend had received during a battle with breast cancer. Once she put the brakes on her bicoastal treks, she applied online for a position with the volunteer program.

“I wanted to pay it forward and comfort people in their time of need,” she says. “Volunteering is a very rewarding experience,” she says – and one that can be quite memorable. “One time, a patient unexpectedly toppled over as I was taking his name,” recalls Mary. “I didn’t know what to do so I ran to get the nearest nurse. She rushed to the patient’s side, immediately called a code, and then everyone and everything kicked-in the way it was supposed to. The doctors and nurses literally saved his life with their quick response. I was very proud of them … and the hospital.”

While Mary’s own quick response was part of that life-saving team effort, she’s pleased to leave such adrenalin-producing events to the medical professionals. Instead, she remains dedicated to comforting and escorting patients; and, when home, taking care of her husband and 13-year-old grandson Hunter.

Mike Flanagan

Seventy-year-old mike Flanagan energetically answers the phone in the volunteer room, quickly checks the written log of recent assignments, and then determines which of the assembled volunteers should handle the incoming request. It’s a task that comes naturally to Flanagan – who spent the better part of his professional career successfully navigating the management track at various retail outlets – including Dollar General, Eckerd Drugs and K-Mart. Two years ago, when he decided to finally hang-up his manager’s hat, he began searching for a part-time position.

What he found, instead, was an enriching environment in the volunteer program at Northern Hospital – where, as he explains, he can now give something back to the community. “Plus, I haven’t had a bad day here in two years, compared to retail,” he jokes.

An easy conversationalist and natural optimist, Mike enjoys trying to lighten the mood for everyone, especially patients. “We know that patients don’t want to be here, so we want to make them feel better,” he explains. “I usually ask people how they’re doing, how long they’ve been in the hospital, and other easy questions – just to get a conversation going. I also love to see them laugh, so when I’m transporting patients, I tell them, ‘Don’t worry – I’m not going to go too fast; I already got a speeding ticket today.’”

A resident of Mount Airy for the past 28 years, Mike and his wife, Cynthia — who also volunteers at Northern Hospital — enjoy spending time with their granddaughter and two sons.

Coley Jones

Ask any volunteer to name the group’s biggest flirt and, without hesitation, they all say, “Oh, that’d be Coley.”

A six-foot, white-haired, mild-mannered storyteller, Coley Jones has been charming the ladies, and the patients, for more than 14 years. At 90 years old, he’s the oldest, active volunteer.

A former Navy man and retired telephone lineman, he still recalls the only time in his professional life when he was frightened. “Two of us had to climb a pole that was 65 feet high; and, once we were at the top, it was weaving and bobbing in the breeze. That pole was so big that we had to get Duke Energy to dig a hole for it,” he recalls.

Nowadays, there is nothing that frightens him – especially in his capacity as a volunteer. “After I retired, I heard about the program and thought I’d try it and see if I liked it.” He both tried it and liked it – so he now joins his volunteer colleagues once a week to run helpful errands and spread good cheer. “Every day is a new day, and I enjoy every day,” he says with a gleam in his eye.

A widower for the past five years, Jones speaks lovingly and often about his late-wife, to whom he was married for 65 years. He also speaks proudly of his son, who owns a popular, local eatery.

As for the benefits of volunteering, hes says simply, “We’re all family here; and if more people knew what it was like here, they’d want to apply.”

Patty Carpenter

Like a bubbly effervescent drink, 72-year-old Patty Carpenter just can’t sit still. Usually assigned to the front desk, she spends much of her time personally escorting patients and visitors to their desired destination within the hospital. “When I started volunteering 10 years ago, I felt like Sherlock Holmes trying to find my way around. Now, I know every nook and cranny.”

Patty’s affection for Northern Hospital began many years ago – with the birth of her oldest daughter. Since then, over the course of several decades, she’s also had four separate surgical procedures that have helped strengthen her admiration for the hospital and its staff.

“Each time I was a patient, I was treated very well by everyone,” she says. “From the housekeeping staff to the doctors, I was treated with the utmost respect, concern and dignity.”

When not volunteering, Patty maintains an active lifestyle – which includes playing many rounds of golf (her handicap is 21), serving on several church committees, visiting with her two daughters and four grandchildren, and driving an elderly neighbor to the grocery store and doctor’s appointments. “I don’t volunteer because I need to get out of the house,” she laughs. “I do it because I love people and I’ve always loved helping and interacting with others.

“We volunteers believe we’re helping the doctors, nurses and other staff by doing simple tasks that permit them to focus on their patients,” she adds. “Of course, it’s not just a one-way street: we also get something back — because something really heartwarming happens here each and every day. I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.”

To learn more about the volunteer programs at Northern Hospital, check the website at or call 336-783-8196.

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Pictured here are two of the volunteers who work at Northern Hospital of Surry County, Coley Jones and Patty Carpenter, at a recent volunteer function. here are two of the volunteers who work at Northern Hospital of Surry County, Coley Jones and Patty Carpenter, at a recent volunteer function.