By Henry G. Farley
Donald Guthrie’s arrival in Sayre changed the face of the Robert Packer Hospital brought about the birth of the Guthrie Clinic and improved the life of the residents of the area. His principles are still used today to carry on his legacy.
The following are some highlights from Dr. Guthrie’s Twenty-fifty anniversary as Surgeon-in-chief of the Robert Packer Hospital and Guthrie Clinic in 1935.
Gathering from far and near almost 300 men, representing all walks of life, crowded into the large dining room of the Wilbur House tonight to pay tribute to one whose self-sacrifice, ability and strength of character have brought priceless benefits to this entire section—Dr. Donald Guthrie, Surgeon-in-chief of the Robert Packer Hospital.
Former Senator Charles E. Mills, the valley’s best known and most skillful toastmaster, officiated in that capacity at the dinner.
The first speaker was Howard E. Bishop, superintendent of the Robert Packer Hospital, who told of Dr. Guthrie coming there as surgeon-in-chief, 25 years ago January 10. He said Dr. Guthrie had worked with the idea in mind not so much of developing a big hospital but a good one. How well he has succeeded. Mr. Bishop added, is shown by the fame he has brought not only to himself but also to Sayre and this entire section.
The speaker said the honored guest not only is a great surgeon but is great also as a physician and a psychologist of life and that it is the last-mentioned ability that has enabled him to bring together the unsurpassed staff he now has and to keep them.
“Fairness,” said Mr. Bishop, “is one of his outstanding characteristics. He thoroughly appreciates honors that come to members of his staff and is sincerely glad for them. That means a lot.”
He started with woefully little equipment said the speaker, but like a real artisan, managed to do almost miracles with what he had to use. Now the hospital is equipped with the latest surgical line.
Dr. Guthrie, he told the men, “takes time to keep well.” He is a great hunter and fisherman and likes his golf, thus relaxing his nerves from the tension of his work.
The surgeon’s kindness also was praised—not only his kindness to his patients but to all. He was described as “the friend of many.”
In closing, Mr. Bishop expressed the hope that Dr. Guthrie may be spared for many more years to come in which he may find it possible to work out further his plans for an ever-greater Robert Packer Hospital.
Hon. Louis Piollet of Towanda, president of the hospital board of trustees, told of a time a quarter of a century ago when Dr. Guthrie was selected as surgeon-in-chief. Mr. Piollet was on the committee appointed to investigate and report on candidates.
“We made no mistake when we selected Dr. Guthrie,” he declared.
Dr. Hawk told of the time years ago when Pavilions 1 and 2 were added to the then very small hospital and how Dr. Guthrie placed his hand on Dr. Hawk’s arm and asked: “George do you think we’ll ever be able to fill this building?”
Several years later he asked that same question, Dr. Hawk said, when other new units were added, and a few days ago as they walked through the vast new hospital structure just completed, the question was once more repeated.
Now said Dr. Hawk, the hospital has 350-bed capacity and the staff has expanded from two at the time Dr. Guthrie took charge to 26 at present. The reputation of the hospital in 1910 was purely local, he said, but now patients come from great distances and the hospital and Guthrie Clinic are known not only nationally but also internationally.
“I have always believed in Dr. Guthrie’s ability and integrity. “he said. “I cast my early lot with him, and it was a decision I never have regretted. Speaking for your staff I wish to express the deep appreciation of all of us who for the privilege of working with you and may you live many years to carry on this great work.”
The next speaker was the Rev. Father James A. Houlihan, pastor of the Church of the Epiphany, Sayre, a former Army Chaplin and a member of the hospital board of trustees. He told of his close association with the hospital and how he had come to love Dr. Guthrie, praising him for his modesty, simple way of life, and above all his “human quality.”
When he first came to Sayre 13 years ago, said Father Houlihan, the question often occurred to him: “Why does so wonderful a place exist in so small a place as Sayre?” The answer he said he found was “Dr. Guthrie.” His spirit, the speaker asserted, permeates the entire structure.
J.N. Haines of Bethlehem, general manager of the Lehigh Valley told of the worries many had after Dr. Guthrie had been secured. As his fame spread it was feared he would leave and each time a crisis was passed all breathed easier. When finally, it was learned that the doctor was to be married it was believed he certainly would leave them for his wife surely would not want to stay in so small a town. Mr. Haines said, however, that all connected with the hospital were happily surprised to find that Mrs. Guthrie was of the same high caliber, as her husband and that they made a “wonderful team.”
“We never will be able to repay what Dr. Guthrie has done,” Mr. Haines said in conclusion.
Toastmaster Mills rising then to the heights of which he is capable introduced Dr. Guthrie himself.
“As Dr. Guthrie’s dreams come true like the soldiers of old,” said the speaker, “he casts his helmet to the fore and therefore when he is called his goal will be a star far above his first ambitions.”
Dr. Guthrie, instinctively an unusually modest man, was deeply affected by the appreciation and honor shown him. In responding he said although he often had been called upon for speeches, he never had been at quite such a loss to know what to say.
“If your object has been to make me happy,” he said, “you have doubly accomplished your purpose.”
He told of his early boyhood days when a chum used to tell him about his parents going “up country.” When he was asked where, the boy said to Bradford County, “and in explaining further to his companion volunteered the information that his parents said that was “the best place in the world.”
Consequently, Dr. Guthrie said, he grew up with a wholesome admiration for Bradford County and was pleased when he has an opportunity to take up his life’s work here. He said he has been thankful ever since he came.
In recalling the remarks of some that they had feared he might leave, he said he had no desire to do that for he has had a very thrilling life among the people here.
“I have been happy and contented to stay,” he said, “for I found you were just the right kind of people to work for. Twenty-five years have passed quickly—it scares me to think how fast—and it’s because I have been so happy among you.
He said the first purpose of the hospital has been to care for local people and added with emphasis “that is still its mission.”
He told how deeply impressed he was with the spirit of co-operation and friendship shown by the public at the time of the campaign to raise funds for the beautiful nurses’ home.
“I made a pledge then,” he said, “and have often repeated it since, that never again so long as I am connected with the hospital will we go before the public and ask for one cent for development.”
Dr. Guthrie told also of the great encouragement given the hospital at the time of the terrible fire of May 3, 1933, and how heartening it was to have the public rally round when those of the hospital staff were nearly driven frantic with their trouble.
“This is what YOU have meant to me,” he said.
He expressed the hope that the hospital will continue to grow and bring many people to Sayre to make the institution of even greater worth as an investment for the valley. It is hoped, he said, to interest wealthy people in helping the hospital and eventually to have a foundation in the way of endowments for a firm basis to make the hospital the pride of Sayre.
Again, expressing his heart-felt appreciation of what had been done for him he concluded with the assertion:
“You are the people whom we love.”
Henry Farley is a founding member and a current board member of the Sayre Historical Society. He is also president of the Bradford County Historical Society. He was employed as the Director of Nutrition Services at Guthrie for 36 years and currently serves as Archivist for Guthrie.