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Grace Hospital - History of Our Leaders- (back to History Wall Main Page)


Grace Hospital opens for business on King Street. The hospital has 17 beds and one crib. The Rev. William S. Stoney, rector of Grace Episcopal Church, writes in the 1935 book, Historical Sketch of Grace Church: “The Bishop wanted it built in Valle Crucis, but in 1905, he established it in Morganton under the name of Grace Hospital.”

Above: The first article on Grace Hospital appearing in The News Herald August 9, 1906 (Click image to see larger version).

Dr. Phifer and the Hughsons incorporate Grace Hospital. Dr. Phifer continues as President of the Board, Medical Staff Director and Chief of Staff until his death in 1939. The Rev. Hughson dies of diabetic complications in September. The hospital has 32 beds.

FROM 1913-1914

“The big screened porch has been very popular, and patients who are convalescing beg to be promoted to it from the ward. It is most interesting to watch the improvement and growing cheerfulness, as the patients sit in wheeled chairs or popped up in bed, with simple fancy work or patchwork in hand, while stretching before them is the beautiful outlook over fertile fields to the Blue Ridge.”

By 1917, Grace is the only general hospital in North Carolina providing treatment for tuberculosis patients in separate pavilion.

In 1924, Mary Hughson, 66, dies after guiding the hospital for 16 years. In her obituary, The News Herald proclaims
“General Manager of Grace Hospital
and ‘Outstanding Angel of Mercy’ of the Community Dies After Long Illness. Since about Thanksgiving time she had been suffering with heart disease, and she had so completely worn herself out in the service of others that the best medical skill in the country could accomplish little in a fight against such odds.”

Depression Era Financials (click image to see up close)
Grace Hospital’s financial report for 1929, the year of the stock market crash and the start of the Great Depression. In September 1929, officials had just celebrated laying the corner stone and dedicating the new hospital building. “It was a day of crowning glory in the history of the institution and will remain in the minds of those taking part as a day of great blessing.”

First full time administrator, Mr. S.K. Hunt is appointed, taking over from Dr. Phifer. Mr. Hunt remains until 1946.

Grace Hospital was founded as a mission of Grace Episcopal Church. As the hospital grew, the need for broader professional and community leadership grew. This led to Grace Church amending the hospital’s charter to allow for a self-perpetuating board with 20 percent of the trustees to be chosen from the church’s vestry members and the rector to serve ex-officio in 1935. In 1939, Grace Episcopal and Grace Hospital ended their ownership relationship and the hospital was incorporated as a non-profit, community hospital.

J. Grayson Brothers begins his 25-year tenure as Grace’s administrator. He was “considerate of patient needs, medical staff, employees, trustees and the public.” He was instrumental in establishing the Bachelor of Nursing program with Lenoir-Rhyne College. Planning and building a new hospital was one of his top priorities.


“One time I was working in the diet kitchen and walking up the steps from the basement to the second floor, serving the food trays I had sent up. I told one of the other student I was tired, and I thought I would ride back down. I climbed into the dumbwaiter and she pushed the button. When the kitchen worker opened the dumbwaiter, she screamed and everybody came running. When we had our senior prom, the hospital administrator, Mr. Brothers, asked me if I had ridden the dumbwaiter lately. He just laughed when I told him I had decided to walk from now on.”

Long-time administrator, Grayson Brothers, dies of heart attack. He did fulfill his priority of building a new hospital, and helped dedicated the “new” Grace on South Sterling Street in 1973. Morganton Garden Club donates a memorial garden with a bird bath and stone benches to honor his memory.

In December 1998, the Grace Hospital Board of Directors enters an agreement with Valdese Hospital and Carolinas HealthCare System to form a new operating company, Blue Ridge HealthCare. The purpose of the agreement is to provide better health services through the management skills of Carolinas HealthCare Systems while lowering costs in Burke County by eliminating duplicate spending at the two facilities. The new company is managed by a local board of directors with representation from the Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System. The new Blue Ridge HealthCare is the second largest hospital in the Unifour area and the 27th largest in North Carolina at the time of its creation. Local hospital leaders pledge not to enter into any agreement that would force the sale of Grace Hospital, give up local control or change the hospital’s nonprofit status.

In 2012, Grace and Valdese Hospitals are merged under a single provider number.

Kathy C. Bailey is named President and CEO, the first woman to head the organization since Mrs. Hughson.

In May 2014, Grace Hospital officially becomes Carolinas HealthCare System Blue Ridge - Morganton. Formerly known as Blue Ridge HealthCare, the organization changes its name to reflect its ever-growing relationship with Carolinas HealthCare System in Charlotte. The two organizations have developed a close, interactive relationship since 1998. The
name change gives the hospital opportunity to benefit from the strengths of a much larger system, while remaining focused on meeting the needs of the community.

1906 - $3,000
1929 - $175,000
1973 - $6.8 million

Hospital Opens for “All the Sick Whom We Can Accommodate”

Grace Hospital began as a mission of the Episcopal Church. In 1901, the Rev. Walter Hughson and his wife, Mary Herbert Hughson, moved to Morganton where Rev. Hughson served as rector of Grace Episcopal Church.

The Hughsons were ardent mission workers. In 1901, the Episcopal church
in Morganton had five missions in Burke County whose ministry was not just
to provide educational and worship opportunities for members, but also health care and clothing.

Rev. Hughson (1854-1908), a native of New Jersey, was ordained in Spokane, Wash., where he was a real estate dealer, Sunday school teacher and perpetual deacon. Prior to his arrival in Morganton, he served churches in New York and Detroit.

He served as rector of Grace Episcopal Church until 1906, and was transferred to Grace Church in Waynesville, N.C., but remained involved with Grace Hospital. He died there on Sept. 4, 1908, of complications resulting from diabetes.

Mary Hughson (1858-1924) became superintendent of Grace Hospital, a position she held for 16 years until her death in 1924.

The church hired Miss Maria Purdon Allen from Philadelphia in 1903 as visiting nurse to the missions. After Miss Allen wrote an article in a national church publication, “The Spirit of the Missions,” about the need for a hospital in the area which she believed could be built for $3,000, friends and strangers began sending money for the project.

Mrs. George Zabriskie Gray of New York sent $3,000 in memory of her daughter Grace then another $2,000 of which $1,000 was designated to build a ward for African-Americans. Rev. Hughson took charge of the project, and the first Grace Hospital was built on King Street in Morganton across from the Episcopal rectory.

Edward William Phifer Sr., MD, was the first resident physician and Miss Allen was superintendent of nurses.

The hospital opened on Aug. 1, 1906, with two white wards, one male and one female, with four beds each and a crib and an annex for black patients with two wards of four beds each. The hospital had an operating room and a dispensary.

The hospital was incorporated in 1908 by Dr. Phifer and the Hughsons. During her long tenure as superintendent, Mrs. Hughson had many devoted admirers and became the soul of the hospital.

A tribute from Mrs. Mamie Collett Kistler describes the remarkable Mrs. Hughson and her work: “For 18 long years Mrs. Hughson made Grace Hospital the object of her prayers and activities, and this in the midst of a busy life of labor and love and sacrifice among the poor, the neglected, and the afflicted. She was a woman of wonderful intellect, of broad vision and abounding energy, and, withal, she was endowed with rare wit and humor that made her a charming raconteur and a most forceful and engaging platform speaker.

“During her long connection with the hospital she made a yearly circuit of the great cities of Eastern America, telling the needs of the field in which she labored, and garnering large sums of money to carry on the great enterprise to which she had pledged her life.

“Her work at the hospital where she was during her stay the dominant spirit, was only one among many fields of endeavor. She went into the coves of surrounding mountains, bringing words of cheer as well as material help to the forgotten people of the hills. Time and again she took young girls from the homes of destitute or afflicted parents, taught them, built them up physically and spiritually, and sent them forth into the world equipped for life’s sternest battles and filled with a portion of her love for humanity.”

Reverend Hughson, Mrs. Hughson and their daughter, Marjorie, were all buried on the grounds of Grace Hospital. When the hospital was enlarged in 1929, their graves were moved to Forest Hill Cemetery in Morganton. In addition to Marjorie, the Hughsons had two other children, Walter Jr. who became a doctor and served on the faculty and staff of Johns Hopkins Medical Hospital and College, and Dorothy Hughson.

The Rev. Walter Hughson (1854-1908) - and Mary Herbert Hughson (1858-1924)


Interim Administrators Throughout the Years: W. Hight Redmond, Pete Roye Jr., Tom Walton, Doug Kier and Larry Carpenter.


Grayson Brothers Begins 23-Year Tenure

Joseph Grayson Brothers was born in Wilmington, N.C., on May 11, 1913. He graduated from Duke University in 1936 with a BA in economics. He worked for a time at Duke before entering Duke’s graduate school in hospital administration. While there he met and married Edith Howard McCormick, a nurse at Duke Hospital.

In 1942, his training was interrupted by World War II. Mr. Brothers joined the General Hospital Unit of the military and was sent to England. His wife who joined the Army Nurse Corps was also sent to England. At the end of his service in 1946, Mr. Brothers was awarded the Army Commendation Medal. He returned to Duke and graduated in 1947. He served first as Assistant Administrator on the staff of the North Carolina Medical Care Commission, the licensing agency for hospitals in the state and then as Administrator of Kings Daughters Hospital in Staunton, Va., before assuming the position of Administrator of Grace hospital in 1953.

Mr. Brothers served as Administrator of Grace Hospital for 23 years. In that time he oversaw the planning and completion of a new modern hospital, opened in 1973, while administering the old one. He was an exemplary administrator and his abilities were recognized by his peers. He was elected President of the North Carolina Hospital Association and served on the association’s board of directors.

He was awarded the rank of Fellow in the American College of Hospital Administrators and served as Regent for North Carolina.

He served on the North Carolina Board of Nursing, the body which oversees the training and licensing of nurses, under five governors and was instrumental in establishing one of the first B.S. degrees in Nursing at Lenoir-Rhyne College in 1963.

Always interested in encouraging young people to consider a career in healthcare, Mr. Brothers was a leader in establishing Healthcare Careers for North Carolina in 1963. Mr. Brothers was active in Grace Episcopal Church, serving as senior warden for several terms.
He and Mrs. Brothers had three children: David, Susan and Thomas Howard Brothers who was fatally injured in a climbing accident in Idaho in 1975. Grayson Brothers died in 1976.

Five Hospital Quadrants Named for Nurses

DISTINGUISHED VISITORS AT GRACE - With the hospital being a mission of the Episcopal church, visiting Episcopalian dignitaries often stopped by including Bishop J.M. Horner, later to become bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina, and the Rev. Edmund Joyner, General Missionary of the Missionary District of Asheville (on back row). Others in the photograph are: (first row, seated) Miss Marjorie Hughson, Mrs. Mary Hughson, Deaconess Ruth Wilds; (second row) the man is unidentified; Mrs. Eva Dixon Joyner, Miss Dorothy Hughson, the Rev. Walter Hughson and Maria P. Allen. This is one of the few photos we have showing Rev. Hughson, his wife and their two daughters.

Shown here, in an undated photo, are Ed Hairfield, Grayson Brothers, Juanita Williams, RN and Jane Franklin, junior student nurse.

Included in this photo are: (front row, first person from left) Maria Allen, first nurse; third person is Alice Wood Wilds, who later became nursing superintendent; (standing, from left) Dr. J.B. Riddle and Mary Hughson. The rest of the nurses are unidentified.