Passion for HMH led to 4 decades in local healthcare
By John R. Schirmer
For Freda Davis, serving Howard Memorial Hospital has been more than a job. It’s been her passion since the mid-1970s.
Davis will retire Dec. 20 as director of the HMH Foundation, a post she’s held since 2003. Before that, she held other positions at the hospital, including director of nursing.
In each of her roles at Howard Memorial, Davis has relied on the same approach. “It’s got to be your passion, not your job. You have to believe in what you’re doing,” she said.
Davis, a nurse, and her husband J.B. moved to Nashville in 1974. “He had finished an anesthesiology program, and we had planned to go to Mt. Pleasant, Texas, where we grew up,” she said.
The couple wanted to be close to family. They were surprised to learn of a job opening in Nashville, only two hours from Mt. Pleasant.
“There was no surgeon here back then,” Davis said. The hospital recognized that in order to recruit a surgeon, an anesthesiologist need to be on staff. J.B. had found his job.
HMH officials looked at Freda’s resume and asked her to be chief nurse. “This has been home ever since,” she said.
She served as director of nursing for three years, then left to work on her master’s degree. She returned to the hospital in 1980.
Davis was chief nursing officer at HMH until stepping down in 2003 in order to help care for family members.
Brian Thomas, who was HMH administrator at the time, asked Davis to become director of the Howard Memorial Foundation on a part-time basis.
The foundation began in 1987 but had been inactive most of the time.
Thomas knew of Davis’s interest in supporting the hospital through her service as nursing director. “While I was DON, I worked a little on endowments,” including a nursing scholarship, she said.
Thomas asked her to consider the foundation position, and she accepted.
From there, Davis “went to successful foundations at other hospitals and looked at their good points. I modeled our program after theirs.”
Davis visited Benton and Little Rock. She also traveled to smaller hospitals “to get their best practices. I went to places that had been very successful,” she said.
The foundation became more active in supporting the hospital. Fund-raisers provided much of the income for key projects, including the acquisition of land for the new facility.
Davis said planned giving will be important to the hospital’s future. “Planned giving makes the future. We’re not just buying for today. We have planned gifts for 20-30 years from now. Future generations need it.”
Relationship building and fund-raising are vital for HMH, according to Davis.
Howard Memorial and the community “need to look at the future of healthcare. We need the help of the community to get things that came up, like equipment. We need the doctors’ building to recruit physicians. They have to have a place to practice,” she said.
Even though Howard Memorial’s building is less than five years old, “We’ll need to replace it some day. We’ll need money to build.”
Davis said the foundation of a hospital is like the foundation of a house. “It helps weather storms. It helps with what we haven’t planned for,” she said.
For Davis, “Charitable giving is part of your passion. You give to that passion. Health care is vital to the community.”
Freda and J.B. have seen the hospital’s value first hand in their own lives. J.B. had a heart attack a few years ago, and Freda credits his survival and recovery to HMH. “J.B. is here today because Howard Memorial Hospital was here when he needed it. We can’t bypass Howard Memorial. That’s why I have passion for it,” she said.
As Freda steps down as foundation director, J.B. will retire as anesthesiologist. They say they will remain a part of HMH, and HMH will be part of them.
“Howard Memorial has kind of been us. It’s who we are,” Davis said.
Davis said life after Dec. 21 “will be different. We look forward to having time together. We haven’t done that in 40 years. We won’t be on coll. We won’t have to come back in. We want to see more of the United States and go without having to be back on schedule.”
She said people ask if they plan to remain in Nashville, and the answer is simple. “Why would you leave home. We’re not leaving home,” she said.
J.B.s retirement led to Freda’s decision to step down, she said. “When we married, I made a deal to retire when he did. I still love the hospital, but I love J.B. We made a deal.”
Davis has seen many changes at the hospital during her tenure. She was there during the construction of a surgery wing and other improvements at the old hospital building. She moved into the new facility. She saw the addition of a number of services, along with a new physical therapy and rehab building.
The foundation paid $250,000 for the land which is now the hospital campus. The foundation provided about $200,000 for rehab services in the building adjacent to the hospital.
“Equipping the rehab program has been very rewarding. I go over there on a daily basis and see the good that program does,” Davis said.
In all, the foundation has raised about $1 million, much of it through volunteer projects such as the annual gala, Lights of Love and other fund-raisers.
The foundation has brought in between $80,000 to $100,000 per year. “Some years we’ve had more, some less,” Davis said.
She would like to see the endowment grow. “I would love for us to have a couple of million more in the endowment.”
For Davis, the director’s job has been part-time, at least on paper. However, those familiar with the foundation recognize that Davis has recorded countless hours in and out of her office.
The foundation’s goal is to make the job full-time with a focus on more time to secure planned giving, she said.
“I’ve watched this hospital for over 40 years. It’s better than it’s ever been. I’m so proud of where we are and the direction we’re headed,” Davis said.
“Our medical campus is a place to build a medical community. We have the land to help healthcare grow,” she said.
Serving as foundation director has been “a rewarding job. It’s not the easiest thing to ask people for money, but if you believe in it, you can do it. I believe in what I’m asking for” in order to improve healthcare in Nashville and the surrounding area.
As the foundation looks for a new director, Davis wants her successor to be “somebody with a passion for our community and where we’ll be tomorrow.
“I want the foundation to make the hospital grow. I came to the foundation thinking I had to have a vision. As it was, I got the ideas of all the friends and volunteers who helped, and they made the vision 10 times better. It’s been the vision of all who contributed. That’s better than I could have ever done.”