The cafeteria of Thomson Manor Healthcare Center was filled with bittersweet emotion last Thursday as staff members, residents and family members gathered to say good-bye to Administrator Andrea Hartley on her last day of work there.
"I'm smiling on the outside, but I'm crying on the inside because you've been wonderful to me and my family," resident Millie Throckmorton said as she struggled to hold back her tears.
After four-and-a-half years of service at Thomson Manor, Ms. Hartley is going to a new facility in Augusta called "Stevens Park" that is set to open on Sept. 1. Stevens Park is owned by Ethica Health and Retirement Communities, the same company that owns Thomson Manor.
"It's the price we have to pay for having such a wonderful administrator, is they know what you can do and that you can start up a new facility," Activities Director Tamicka Franklin said.
Many were crying, but smiles and laughter accompanied the tears as they shared memories and paid tribute to the type of boss Ms. Hartley was.
"Andrea, the first day I met you, I was impressed because you had a hair net on and you were peeling potatoes," Sheree Johnson said. "That showed me right away that you were not only an administrator, but a hands-on administrator."
"Andrea's the only one who saw something in me, and the only one that gave me a chance. Because of her, I'm a better person today and I'm trying to do right," Kesia Shank said, adding that when Ms. Hartley first had to deal with her, she called Ms. Shank "Trouble." "Well, I don't want her to go, and I wish she'd take Trouble with her."
One told of Ms. Hartley driving to Milledgeville to interview her for the job when she had no way to get to Thomson. Two others shared how Ms. Hartley had given money to help them with medical expenses.
"Your strength is you are not only a caring person, but you are strong," Joan Hunt said. "You have made this place not only a home for the residents, but for us as well."
Angie Sloan, who is a Heartland Hospice representative, helped the staff members make a 30-minute video for Ms. Hartley. Everyone watched the video during the farewell celebration. The memoir showed pictures of Ms. Hartley from birth to adulthood, while "Sunshine on my Shoulders" music played in the background.
It also had Ms. Hartley's parents and other family members expressing their adoration for her, and a brief message from every staff member of Thomson Manor.
"If it weren't for you, we wouldn't have made it," members of the dietary staff said. "But because of you, we pulled together and became a team."
During the ceremony, many of the residents hugged Ms. Hartley and gave her a long-stemmed carnation, which she placed in a vase. Staff members gave her cards or read poems. A few spontaneously broke into song.
"I don't know what to say," Ms. Franklin said. "Saying 'I love you' is too simple, because I don't think it says enough. You'll never know how much we love you."
And Ms. Hartley reciprocated the love, saying she had learned just as much from the staff as they had from her.
"You watched me come in one way and guided me through a lot of things. You have no idea what you mean to me," she said. "I thank the family members who walk through the doors of this facility and trust us to take care of those who can't take care of themselves. It's an awesome responsibility. Thank you for trusting me not only professionally, but personally. ... I also want to thank all the hospital staff and the community for all the support they've given us."
Many staff members and residents asked Ms. Hartley to autograph their printed program after the ceremony. Jackie Pittman, of Thomson, will become the new administrator.