In November 1918, 11-year-old Vuriel Steele was critically ill with Spanish flu, the lethal pandemic that infected more than 500 million people worldwide. She was sent from her home in New Albany, Pa., to get treatment about 30 miles north at what is now Guthrie Robert Packer Hospital, in Sayre. She traveled by train, in a boxcar rather than a passenger car to avoid spreading the disease to others.
On December 25, as other children woke up to stuffed stockings and gifts underneath the tree, Vuriel woke up in the hospital, still recovering from her illness.
But Vuriel still had a merry Christmas.
That day, to lift her spirits, her doctor, Donald Guthrie, MD, presented her with a necklace of amber beads. She treasured those beads, keeping them for the rest of her life, and passed them and the story of how she got them down to her sons, Richard Robinson, now 75 years old and living in New Albany, and Robert Robinson, now 74 years old and living in Tunkhannock, Pennsylvania.
Richard says the gift meant the world to his mother, who went on to work as a local grade school teacher and principal, and that she thought very highly of Dr. Guthrie for both healing her so skillfully and treating her so kindly. Richard also suspects that since his mother’s father, with whom she was very close, had to stay home and take care of the family farm while his wife and daughter were in Sayre for Vuriel’s six-week hospital stay, Dr. Guthrie served as a kind of surrogate father figure for her while she was sick.
“My mother always spoke of him as such a caring person. There was nobody that she looked up to more than Dr. Guthrie,” Richard says. “She often said, ‘I would not be here today if it were not the will of the Lord though the hands of Dr. Guthrie.’”
Dr. Guthrie was born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and came to Sayre in 1910 as a young doctor after attending Yale and the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and completing a medical residency at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn. The patient-centered, high-quality care for which Dr. Guthrie advocated has remained a staple of Guthrie Health System long after Dr. Guthrie’s death in 1958. Richard has contributed to that legacy, having become a member of the Donald Guthrie Foundation Board of Trustees and the Guthrie Troy Community Hospital and Post-Acute Care Board of Directors about 10 years ago. He is proud to support Guthrie in a variety of ways, including as a donor, and to help the health system evolve while it maintains the values on which Dr. Guthrie built it – the same values that he displayed to Richard’s mother on that Christmas morning 100 years ago.
“Guthrie is one of the great, great assets of our community,” Richard says. “We’re in such a rural area, so we are very fortunate to have a facility with the capabilities that Guthrie has right in our backyard.”