Lillian Johnson encourages her three grown children not to take things so personal. She’s taught them that value as well, by the way she’s lived.
Johnson became the first emergency room nurse at the Greenville Memorial Hospital in 1972.
Over the years, there have been patients who didn’t want her to care for them because of the color of her skin. She didn’t go home and cry.
The way she saw it, the loss was theirs, she said.
“People were ugly, but I never took it to heart,” she said. And, she persevered for 42 years.
Now, Johnson said, it’s time to go. She plans to retire later this month.
On Feb. 23, the Greenville Health System Diversity Department and the African-American Women at GHS will be sponsoring an event for employees and her family in honor of Johnson.
When she looks back at her experience first at Greenville General and now at Greenville Memorial, for the most part, it’s been good, she said.
“I enjoyed it. I loved it. I loved the work,” said Johnson, who doesn’t know of anyone who has been there longer than herself.
It was the influence of a close family member that inspired her to become a nurse.
A native of Illinois, Johnson followed her mother, 90-year-old Bertha Harbor, into the field of nursing.
Her first job after college graduation was in the emergency room department at Evanston Hospital on the campus of Northwestern University.
She moved to Greenville with her husband, James Johnson, after he finished his term in the U.S. Navy. She arrived here and applied for a job at Greenville General Hospital.
Prior to that, she’d never actually had any dealings with the South.
“I wasn’t scared. I had no negative feelings about it,” she said.
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