Louise Warmley, 95, has seen far too many people die far too early. Her father and two uncles were taken by heart attacks. Siblings died as a result of cancer and lung disease.
But, on the other hand, there was her mother.
“She died six hours before she turned 100,” Warmley says with a grin. “Her hands were never idle, except when she was asleep.”
It is obvious that Warmley inherited her mother’s life expectancy and strong work ethic. Raised by a father who was a Baptist preacher and a mother Warmley describes as “a missionary woman,” a foundation of faith was laid early in the home where Warmley grew up.
She says, however, it wasn’t until she was older that she began to understand things of a spiritual nature, realizing she had a duty as a Christian to serve God and share His love with others. Warmley rededicated her life to the Lord in 1962, and felt a fresh desire to serve a larger purpose.
She was 53 years old, and it was a time when most women her age were settling in to empty nests, working toward retirement. Meanwhile, Warmley was getting ready to start a brand new chapter in her life.
It certainly wasn’t because she was restless or bored. Warmley worked full-time at Y-12 in Oak Ridge, she was in two bowling leagues, she attended weekly Family Community Education group meetings, and she was very involved in her church.
Yet when the call to serve came in 1965, she answered. Warmley says a neighbor who regularly visited hospital patients told her the Red Cross was looking for volunteers at what was then called Harriman Hospital, and asked if Warmley would be interested.
There were plenty of reasons to say no, but Warmley offered an enthusiastic yes.
“I go to church to worship, and to give God the praise, the glory, and the honor, and to thank Him for his goodness,” Warmley says. “But outside those four walls – I go out to serve God.”
Warmley asked if it would be alright to invite friends to join her, and she’s been recruiting volunteers ever since.
“We met at the hospital, and we signed up,” Warmley remembers. “Our uniforms were gray with just a little red stripe, and we wore our little caps to match our uniforms, you know, like the nurses used to wear.”
Warmley and her friends worked throughout the hospital. Among her first duties were taking newspapers to patients’ rooms, delivering flowers, and sorting cards. After working for the Red Cross, the volunteers eventually began to work as an extension of the hospital itself.
About 10 years ago, Warmley moved to the Intensive Care Unit waiting room at Roane Medical Center. Her duties involved receiving guests and assisting with access to visitation, but in reality she knew she was helping in a way that was much more profound.
“Some came in crying because they knew their family or friends were getting ready to go out of this world,” Warmley says. “They would look at me, and I would try to comfort them.”
Warmley has provided a listening ear, and a shoulder to cry on. She has offered encouragement and hope to people who are struggling through some of life’s darkest hours.
She has managed to consistently offer those services across the years, through the death of her husband, and through the births of seven grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
Warmley kept her heart and life open for hospital volunteer work as she remained active in her community, even after retiring from Y-12. Warmley has held several offices with the United Way of Roane County, (including the office of president), she continued to sing in the church choir, and kept bowling, too.
Along the way, she found time to become an election worker, and she started writing the “Harriman Happenings” section in the Roane County News. Louise Warmley has had a lot of years in her life, and a lot of life in her years.
Having celebrated her 95th birthday and her 50th year as a hospital volunteer in one season, Warmley has recently had many opportunities to reflect on her life and her service. In 50 years, she has volunteered in three hospital facilities, under the leadership of four administrators.
In 1942, her son became the first black child ever born at the hospital, and it was a far cry from the many beautiful private rooms open to all expectant mothers today. Warmley is a celebrated servant now, welcome in any public area of the hospital, and often relied upon to offer prayer at volunteer events.
She likes to focus on such positive changes, and the family of volunteers she’s enjoyed working with in her half century there. Warmley has seen incredible advances in medicine and technology, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the need for compassion and comfort in times of distress.
Warmley continues to recommend hospital volunteer work, especially to retirees. “It’s a wonderful job, I’ve enjoyed every bit of it, and I loved being a volunteer,” Warmley says. “You can do a good service for the Lord, and be of help to everybody who comes through those doors at the hospital.”
As she retires from volunteer work at Roane Medical Center (due to health concerns), Warmley can look back on her life as having counted for something good. She received more than 50 birthday cards in May, and many repeated the same sentiment – that Warmley is an inspiration.
“That’s one way I serve God,” Warmley says, “by being an inspiration to others.”
Warmley says she believes she lives today because of the goodness of the Lord, and because she hasn’t fulfilled her mission.
“Each of us has a mission – we have something God wants each of us to do – and mine’s not complete, yet,” Warmley says. “When it is, He’ll let me know. He’ll take me on home.”
For information about becoming a volunteer at Roane Medical Center, call (865) 316-1000, or visit our volunteer services page.