The news account on Tuesday that the Anna Jaques Hospital remains alive and well at a time of worldly economic turbulence is reassuring because it was born of the people, has been run by the people, for the people of Greater Newburyport, and those from "away'' come to it by way of need.
Its roots probe deep in the history of the city nurtured by generations of those who were either born here or came here to wed their commitment to it.
It was brought to service May 7, 1884, in the former estate mansion on the corner of Broad and Munroe streets through the generosity of the late Anna Jaques and the vision of founding doctors Francis A. Howe, its first president, and Randolph C. Hurd. It moved to its present location, where it has weathered every testing to become a celebrated example of what a community hospital should be.
I sometimes tell one of my late father's stories that links past and present of the hospital's beginning. During one of his recoveries, he said to one of the nurses, "I used to pick tobacco under this bed,'' and then had to explain that he was not hallucinating. My grandfather had planted it.
That would have been more than a century ago.
Institutions are essential to measuring community life, and the strong, pulsing presence of Anna Jaques bears witness to the city's vitality.
Those responsible are an impressive legion of those come to share the expertise of their professions, together with those who commit so much of their time to volunteer their services and those who generously support the hospital's funding initiatives.
A community's pulse is most often taken short term on issues that, more often than not, are divisive. The longer view is less taken.
My own has led me to appreciate how and when Newburyport's restoration began. The great war had ended by more than 10 years, but the city was struggling to regenerate what had once been a regionally active industrial center.
It was then that those on the Anna Jaques board began the city's recovery with a successful financial drive to build the west wing of the hospital. It was the first "must-do, can-do, will-do'' venture in the city, a success that would lead to more than the construction of the east wing medical building.
The can-do virus spread. Urban renewal began its torturous effort to recover the downtown. A small group of business leaders formed NAID Inc., a not-for-profit corporation to seek industry. It created the west end of the industrial park and the charitable fund that nourishes needs annually. The presence of Anna Jaques Hospital became a marketing reality in the attraction of businesses. Industry leaders have donated generously to the hospital's needs.
All of that may not have occurred if Anna Jaques Hospital had not shown the way, but I often wonder whether that would have been the case.
I am convinced, because of the linking of interests of those involved, that the must-do, can-do spirit of a comparatively small group of leaders spread and brought us to where we are today.
What is in progress at Anna Jaques takes us to a new level of public service. It enhances more than convenient access to quality care. It reinforces our sense of can-do fulfillment.
I never go there without thinking of what would have become of the city had Anna Jaques, or someone like her, not begun what continues to serve us so well.
• • •
Bill Plante is former executive editor of Essex County Newspapers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.