John F. Kennedy said, “Our nation is judged, not only by the people we choose to lead, but also by the people we choose to honor.” In reviewing the life that Mrs. Annie B. Watts has lived, it is easy to see why this nation has remained the shining example of strength and hope in the world where so many people and so many nations seem lost. The strength that comes from helping those in need is a very powerful force. The secret is that it cannot be legislated or forced; it has to come from the heart. That is why community is so important to Watts. The gift she gives to the people of Northeast Mississippi cannot be bought; it is, in the words of MasterCard, priceless.
Most people sit back and complain about how things should be, expecting the government to fix them. Her community in Northeast Mississippi has, instead, has a great history of working with the government instead of waiting for the government to start programs that make a difference. Watts has been a trailblazer in her community for helping those in need. Over the past 40 years, she has dedicated her time to the North Mississippi Medical Center.
In 1965 when Watts began her service at North Mississippi Medical Center, it was just a simple two-story building. She was assigned to deliver mail and run patient errands. Learning how to navigate around the Medical Center was a challenge in the beginning, but it was something Watts was determined to master. She always loved meeting new faces and was excited about forming new friendships; and that is exactly what happened. She began to be such a resource to the Medical Center that they asked her to staff the information front desk. Every Tuesday, Watts began to assist and direct individuals and families to the location where their loved ones were being cared for. This one-on-one contact with patient families was “just what the doctor ordered” for Watts.
Forty years later, the North Mississippi Medical Center has become one of the largest nonprofit medical centers in the United States, boasting six stories, and countless programs, medical units, and hundreds of staff members. Its change in appearance has progressed tremendously over the years. Even though the Medical Center underwent a major facelift, there was one constant fixture – Watts. She has continued to volunteer every Tuesday at the information desk. As volunteers began to grow in numbers, the Medical Center and Lift Inc.’s Retired and Senior Volunteer Program called upon her to become the Volunteer Coordinator for the RSVP Volunteers.
With her new position, Watts began to chart all volunteer hours for individuals 55 and older who were enrolled in the program. She also began training other interested volunteers in operating the computer station at the information desk. She has also orchestrated book and magazine drives in the community so that patients may have reading materials during their hospital stay. As the holidays approach, you can always look forward to Watt’s colorful decorations that enhance the atmosphere when entering the Medical Center. She has always taken her volunteer duties at the hospital seriously and has rarely missed a Tuesday.
In early 2005, Watts suffered a broken ankle and was determined to not just sit home; instead, she insisted that her son escort her into the hospital in a wheel chair and she never missed one Tuesday during her eight-week recovery. At 87 years old, she also manages to stay fit and active by walking the hospital halls and visiting staff and patients.
Taking only one “baby” aspirin a day, Watts also fills many other roles in her community. As a member of her neighborhood watch group, she never misses a meeting and always stays alert to potential crime in her community. She is also an active member of the Eastern Star Glad Club, where she serves her community through friendly visits to the sick and shut-ins, often baking casseroles, and making friendly phone calls. As an RSVP Volunteer Coordinator, she oversees 21 senior citizen volunteers who log at least 300 volunteer hours each month and who have recently earned a Gold Presidential Award as a volunteer group for their hard work at the Medical Center. Watts has also won a Silver Presidential Award for performing 312 volunteer hours in the past year.
Kristin Hunter said, “First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms.” Mrs. Annie B. Watts has reached out her arms and touched so many lives; she has healed so many with her warm smiles and gentle touches. Watts believes in “fighting the good fight’ and choosing not to sit home and watch the world go by, but by getting off the couch and making a difference.