Martha’s Vineyard Hospital chief walks behind, 63 years later

In a letter, hospital superintendent Catherine Perry wondered what the future of healthcare might bring, and wished she could have done more.

Martha's Vineyard Museum

When it came time to remove the old Martha’s Vineyard Hospital building to make way for the new brick building that now stands in its place, workers found a sealed zinc time capsule that had been placed in the building’s cornerstone when it was dedicated on August 16, 1953.

Tim Sweet, chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital board, said the capsule was put aside to open at a later date. That time came, he said, at a retirement party on April 9 at the Ag Hall for outgoing hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh. Before a large crowd of hospital employees, board members, and well-wishers, the capsule was opened for the first time in 63 years.

Inside was an annual report dated 1952; a statement from the Martha’s Vineyard National Bank of Tisbury, Stephen C. Luce Jr., president, showing listed assets and liabilities of $3,967,029; and a two-page letter dated August 16, 1953, from Catherine L. Perry, a registered nurse and since 1941, hospital superintendent, for “whoever” would be the hospital administrator to read her letter. The second page contained a list of names, many familiar Island family names, of all 36 employees working at the hospital that August.

Not anticipating the powerful seasonal forces that would successfully mount a $50 million capital campaign, Ms. Perry wrote, “I am taking it for granted that it will be at least 2021 before you read this letter. I wonder what will happen between now and then. Will they discover the cause and cure of cancer; of polio; of cerebral palsy. Will tuberculosis be as rare to you as smallpox has been to me. What is going to become of Blue Cross; will the hospital still be on a voluntary basis, or will there be socialized medicine.”
“I hope the two wings I helped plan and which are being dedicated today have been satisfactory. They are not perfect, because even now before we are in, there are some things I wish we had done differently, but on the whole I think they should stand up well. I am sorry we could not modernize the operating room suite, or bring the laboratory upstairs next to the x-ray room. Much more storage space is needed for the entire hospital, but perhaps all these things will have been taken care of before this letter is read. No matter what happens, I am sure you will have no less problems then, than I do now. There will always be problems for any hospital administrator, but would you do anything else?”
“In the annual report you will find the names of the doctors and the members of the board of trustees. I am enclosing with this letter a list of all those who are employed at this hospital this month. Some of them are only here for the summer, but how important they all are — without them we could not run a hospital at all.
“My best wishes to you, whoever you are, and in the words of a very popular song, ‘Look over your shoulder, I’m walking behind.’
“Sincerely yours, Catherine L. Perry, R.N.”