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Gwinnett Medical Center Duluth celebrates 10 years

Duluth - The 1941 death of little 6-year-old Olin Burnette, while tragically painful for his parents, was certainly not in vain. His passing stirred a small group of people to action, their goal to build a much-needed hospital in the heart of Duluth.

Gwinnett Medical Center Duluth today

RET Barbara Howard signing a beam at the Topping Out Ceremony190Left: Barbara Howard signing a beam at the Topping Out Ceremony

With about 600 residents (many of them cotton farmers still in the grip of the Great Depression) and only one paved road, building a hospital seemed nearly impossible. 

But Dick Hull, owner of Irvindale Farms, heard about little Olin’s death and agreed to help build a hospital, with just one condition. Hull wanted the hospital to provide services to both blacks and whites in the community. Fortunately for the people of Gwinnett, Hull’s wife Nora was the daughter of General and Mrs. A.R. Glancy of Pontiac, Michigan. Glancy headed up the Pontiac division of General Motors. His daughter Nora was so moved by the efforts of the people of Duluth and Gwinnett County to raise $450, that she wrote a letter to her parents. They also knew the sadness and pain of losing a child, because their daughter Joan died of pneumonia just 17 ears earlier. Nora’s letter moved Glancy and his wife to donate $500, with the promise to send a $500 check every year on Joan’s birthday. Back then, that was a whole lot of money.

RET Gay Shook signing beam190Left: Gay Shook signing a beam

The Joan Glancy Memorial Clinic opened in 1941 in a three-room cottage on school grounds. At the time. There were no other medical facilities in Gwinnett County, so people came from miles around. Several years later, with the financial support of Glancy, the community came together to build a bigger, better facility on 24 acres of land in Duluth . Joan Glancy Memorial Hospital opened in 1944.

RET Old Joan GLancy bldg photo190Right: The old Joan Glancy Building

The history of Joan Glancy Memorial Hospital, Button Gwinnett Hospital, and the state-of-the-art Lawrenceville and Duluth campuses of Gwinnett Medical Center are lovingly and eloquently shared by Mrs. Kathryn Parsons Willis on YouTube at “There were no medical facilities in Duluth, and people wanted a hospital,” Willis said in her historical account. Mrs. Willis’ great-great grandfather Evan Howell founded Duluth in 1876, and her parents Calvin and Kate Parsons opened Parsons store in 1925. She served on the Hospital Board for 22 years, and now she serves on the GMC Foundation Board. Having been raised by parents who believed in giving back to the community, Mrs. Kathryn Willis honors their passion with her own. 

RET Dr. Miles Mason and Kathryn Willis with Capital Campaign Marker190Right: Kathryn Willis and Dr. Miles Mason, III, with the Capital Campaign Marker

It has been people like Kathryn Willis – people who love their community and believe in serving – whose generosity has made GMC’s beautiful Duluth campus a reality. Gay Shook is another woman with a servant heart who had a hand in bringing the vision to life. “I could see the future of this (hospital). We needed some help,” said Shook. That help came in the form of bonds, but it also came from philanthropists in the community who gave generously to the vision. 

RET Kathryn speaking at Topping Out Reception for GMC Duluth190Left: Kathryn Willis speaking at Topping Out Reception for GMC Duluth

Mrs. Shook shared an interesting story about the “topping out” ceremony that completed the hospital construction. Atop the roof of the Duluth hospital stood Georgia dignitaries, including then Governor Sonny Perdue. Shook was there too, and when the time came for her to sign the final roof beam, she wrote a soft prayer, asking for the blessing of all patients, employees, caregivers and visitors who entered through the hospital’s doors. Her passion still shines when she talks about the hospital and what it brings to the community.

RET Dr. Mason speking at Topping Out Reception for GMC Duluth190Right: Dr. Mason, III, speaking at Topping Out Reception for GMC Duluth

For that topping out ceremony, Shook also shared, Duluth PD sent mounted units to the hospital, a gesture that brought a quiet dignity to the celebration. Perdue, having been a veterinarian for most of his life, couldn’t help examining the horses’ teeth before heading back to the governor’s mansion.

RET Barbara Howard and Jim Billie Ellis at Black Tie Grand Opening190Left: Barbara Howard and Jim & Billie Ellis at the Black Tie Grand Opening

Jim and Billie Ellis were the lead donors to GMC-Duluth, and the peaceful chapel is named for the couple. They have since given generously to the Bariatric Center and the Joan Glancy Rehabilitation Center. 

Barbara Howard and her late husband Henry have also given substantial gifts to GMC-Duluth, paying for the emergency room at the hospital. Their portrait hangs there now. Henry was very ill when the groundbreaking ceremony took place, so Shook and Willis put together a lovely dinner and celebration at the hospice center, even using their own silver and linens, when Peachtree Christian Hospice Board co-chair Martha Todd granted permission to use the facility for such a gathering. People brought food, and the buffet dinner was a smashing success. “People stayed until ten o’clock. They didn’t want to leave!” said Shook, smiling at the memory. Henry passed away about a week later, but not without knowing that the dream was coming to life.

RET Heart placed on GMC Duluth190Left: Heart placed at GMC Duluth

Dorothy Rainey and her late husband Fred are another family who have given selflessly to the hospital. Five years ago, the Raineys donated the beautiful Christmas tree that adorns the roof of GMC Duluth. Dressed in all her Christmas finery at the dedication ceremony, Dorothy Rainey said that she had only one request, and that was for the tree to be put up every November 1, so that she and all who entered or drove by the hospital could enjoy its beauty. 

RET Christmas Tree atop GMC Duluth190Right: The Christmas Tree atop GMC Duluth

Dr. Miles Mason III, co-chair of the hospital’s Legacy Campaign, knows about the business of healthcare, and the business of a hospital. His father, Miles Mason, Jr., was one of the first physicians at Duluth.  “In the 1950s, there wasn’t much you could do at a hospital, besides be gentle and caring. That has changed,” he said.

Fortunately, skilled engineers were able to design the new facility on land that the hospital already owned made possible through the generosity of Scott and Jacqueline Hudgens who donated the land for that campus.  The doctor  also made clear the fact that the GMC-Duluth campus never competed with the GMC-Lawrenceville, which offers neurosurgery, open heart surgery, and heart catheterization. Breast centers at both locations are growing by leaps and bonds, a good sign that more women are attending to their own health.

RET Dr. Masons Toast at Black Tie Grand Opening190Right: Dr. Mason’s toast at the Black Tie Grand Opening

Mason is proud of the fact that, although cutting-edge medicine is practiced at Duluth, the hospital has retained that close, hometown feel. “We want patients, as well as staff, to feel like they’re part of a family,” Mason said. Throughout the Duluth hospital, that feeling does abide. Rooms are quiet, spacious and comfortable, for both patients and their loved ones.

RET Jim Billie Ellis Lead Donors190 to GMC Duluth outside Ellis ChapelRight: Jim & Billie Ellis – Lead donors to GMC-Duluth outside the Ellis Chapel

The philanthropists who quietly give to Gwinnett Medical Center are too numerous to list, but they include business owners and physicians, families and individuals, the wealthy, the middle class, and those who want to give back because they were helped somehow by a kind stranger. As Mr. Clyde Strickland has been quoted, “Philanthropy doesn’t start at a million dollars. Philanthropy starts with one dollar from the heart.” Strickland and his wife Sandra donated $3.2 million to the aptly named Strickland Heart Center, and they have given generously to the Strickland Family Medicine Center, as well as other initiatives that make Gwinnett a better place. According to Sandra, the couple pray together about all of their gifts, and they must see that their gift would improve the lives of others before giving it. 

RET Jim Biullie Ellis campaign marker190Right: Jim and Billie Ellis read the campaign marker

In 2006, Gwinnett Medical Center Duluth opened its doors and was the first completely digital hospital in North Atlanta. The system’s total capacity extended to 424 beds, and Joan Glancy Memorial Hospital became a Rehabilitation Center offering inpatient and outpatient care for neurologic and orthopaedic impairment, as well as stroke care. And the growth continues at both the Lawrenceville and Duluth campuses, with the addition of the Strickland Family Medical Center and GMC Resource Center in Lawrenceville, and the pioneering Concussion Institute in Duluth.

Today, GMC Duluth offers bariatric surgery, robotic surgeries and an advanced interventional radiology unit. Patients can also get CT scans and MRIs at the hospital, additional services that offer patients comprehensive care. There are about 46,000 discharges a year, approximately 361,000 ER visits, and about 79,000 surgeries performed at the GMC-Duluth every year. In the spirit of the very first hospital in Duluth, in which Hull stated that he wanted the doors to be open to both blacks and whites, that tradition of inclusion continues. Today, the large Korean community in metro Atlanta is welcomed with Korean menus, a Korean newspaper, a Korean TV channel and hospital staff who facilitate communication between patients and health care providers. 

The reality of the vision – the beautiful, state-of-the-art hospital in Duluth – is likely more grand than anyone could have imagined all those years ago, because of the many hands in its making. GMC-Duluth is proof that one person can make a difference, because that one person is one of many in a community of giving, selfless people. 

According to Nish Patel, GMC-Duluth’s administrator, on Sat., October 22nd, “We’ll offer a fun mid-day community event, celebrating the community that we’ve been blessed to serve for the past decade.” For updates with details, visit the hospital’s Facebook page at