Phil Donahue is in love with his chosen hometown. So much so that it’s not unusual to see him give back in a number of ways, most notably by serving on the boards of various non-profits.
But Donahue’s work is also a way to give to the community. He’s the vice president of community outreach at the Albemarle Hospital Foundation, and although he’s set to retire in October, he won’t disappear from community involvement.
Donahue began his journey with community outreach back in the 1990s when he and a few other folks got together and formed a community clinic that would be the precursor to the foundation’s Community Care Clinic. At the time he was an executive with a national pharmacy chain, but the opportunity do work that directly affects people’s lives was knocking on his door.
The Daily Advance: What year did you come to Elizabeth City and what brought you here?
Phil Donahue: I came to Elizabeth City in 1976 so it’s about 37 years ago. At the time I was with the drugstore business. At the time it was People’s Drug … and it eventually became CVS.
TDA: Why did you choose to retire from that career?
PD: Mainly because I was offered this position (vice president of community outreach for Albemarle Hospital Foundation).
TDA: How much has the area changed over the years you’ve been here?
PD: It’s probably changed more than I remember. … The community itself, I think, has grown and we have more of a mix of folks. When I came here most of the businesses closed on Wednesday afternoon. Some things like that (have changed) and it was a lot more laid back than it is now.
It’s always been a place I’ve really loved. I’ve always loved this place and I’ll never leave it.
TDA: You’ve raised a family here and now a new generation, your grandchildren, are growing up here. What are the advantages of raising a family here?
PD: I think you get that quality of a small community. I grew up going to school in a different school every year. My father was in government. … I always thought it would be nice for my kids to grow up here. Life in the small town is advantageous. And I love the water, the access to the water.
TDA: What are the disadvantages of raising a family here?
PD: One of the good things is that everybody knows your business and one of the bad things is that everybody knows your business.
Not any real negatives and I really think there are a lot of good things we can do here.
TDA: What changes would you like to see happen in Elizabeth City?
PD: I think from an economic standpoint we’ve got to do a better job developing our assets and that would be the waterfront. … I think we’ve got to develop downtown. The arts center is one of our big assets.
TDA: You are currently writing the Albemarle Hospital history for its upcoming 100th anniversary. What are some of the challenges of piecing together this history?
PD: I kind of got started on it three to four years ago. … Everywhere I looked they had a one-page history of the hospital so I went to the library and pulled all the micro-fische from the Daily Advance and The Independent. I was just amazed.
TDA: What are some of the more interesting historical finds in your research?
PD: The area where there’s nothing available was 1920 to 1930. … Subsequently I found that the hospital went under several times. The Chamber of Commerce took it over and a group of nuns took it over and did a really good job. Then W.O. Saunders (publisher of The Independent) became the chair of the board of directors.
Some of the characters I found interesting, W.O. Saunders being one of them. They had a woman (Charlotte Fearing) run the hospital. She was the administrator only back then they called it superintendent. She was incredibily forceful and that was unusual for women back then to have a position like that, much less be forceful.
TDA: The Albemarle Foundation helps patients in need through the Community Care Clinic and other programs. How great is the need for health care assistance here in the area?
PD: Tremendous; more than people would ever realize. In terms of the uninsured, the current numbers for all of our counties are in the 20 percentile. … and it’s a big segment of the population.
TDA: What can people do to help support the foundation’s mission?
PD: I usually tell people two things: Even after 10 years there are still a ton of people don’t know we have this kind of service (the Community Care Clinic). And of course financial support is huge.