There's an old saying that goes, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”
This saying certainly holds true for 87-year-old Peggy White.
“I love people, and I feel my best when I work in service to those people," says White, who worked as a licensed practical nurse at Rush Foundation Hospital for more than 25 years.
White, who began working with Dr. Paul Varela in 1971, says each day gave her joy and personal satisfaction.
Varela, a retired gastroenterologist with Rush, believes his practice flourished with White, who was lovingly nicknamed by everyone in the clinic and hospital as “PW”.
“Remember, these were the early years of GI and endoscopy," Varela said. " Because of PW, I could file a petition with the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) for the first gastrointestinal unit in Meridian. After the board approved the unit at Rush, The Mississippi State Board in Jackson recognized her as an endoscopy assistant."
Varela emphasizes that White’s warm personality and her ability to communicate with everyone made her invaluable to the hospital.
Varela’s daughter, Veronica, remembers her as a significant part of her family’s life back in those days.
“PW even made elaborate birthday cakes for me and my brother," she recalled. "She created any design we wanted. I still remember the Steelers cake and that black icing that stuck to my teeth. She was a just an important part of our lives.”
Born in Lauderdale County, White attended Long Creek School, where she met her future husband, Lester, in sixth grade. She graduated from Vimville High School, where she was a standout basketball player.
The day after her high school graduation, she married that sixth-grade sweetheart, by then, a master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force.
While they began their marriage living all across the United States, eventually, they settled back in Meridian with their three daughters, Mary, Linda, and Joyce.
After moving back to Meridian and raising her small children, White says she also discovered the nursing profession that she loves so much.
“I told my husband that I wanted to do something meaningful, and he supported me in that decision," she recalled. "In 1970, Rush paid my tuition of 50 dollars a month at Meridian Community College (then Meridian Junior College) to train to be an LPN. I worked for two years after graduation and was soon hired by Rush to work with Dr. Varela, and the rest is history.”
Throughout their 62 years of marriage, White and her husband also served as foster parents to many children.
One of her foster sons recently turned 40; he came to spend the weekend with White, as he often does.
“I cared for him when he was a four-week-old baby, and I have been in his life ever since," she says. "We had such a good time reminiscing, and we share such great memories.”
After her initial retirement in 1995, White returned in to work five years later because she missed working with her colleagues and their patients so much.
She officially retired in 2000, and immediately began volunteering on the second floor of Rush.
“I help people find their way," she explains. "I comfort them, and I do whatever I can to make their hospital experience easier. My sister, Ruth, who retired from Dollywood, also volunteers with me, so we enjoy rotating our days there as well.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with White’s regular weekly volunteering schedule at the hospital, it has not stopped her from praying for her friends and coworkers at Rush.
“I pray twice a day. I ask God to please take this virus away,” she says.
In the meantime, White spends her time sending cards to church members.
“That’s my ministry," she says. "My daughter Mary and I buy 100-150 stamps every month. We send birthday cards, get well cards, and we write letters with scripture."
Last week, White had surgery to correct a recurring heart issue, but she doesn't expect her watchman device to slow her down.
"God can’t quit blessing me," she said. "The minute those doors open at Rush, I will be back. If I can put one foot in front of another, even if it’s on a walker, I will be so ready to go back and volunteer.”
This article is the first in a series by The Meridian Star focusing on volunteers in the community. To nominate a volunteer for consideration for the series, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with "volunteers" in the subject line.