A reporter leaned over Mary Poncin Tuesday morning and asked her if she lost her job at Kent Hospital, would she still work?
Hospital president and CEO Sandra Coletta didn’t wait for Mary to answer. She said Mary wouldn’t be losing her job as a hospital greeter and she could stay for a long as she wants.
That could be some time. Mary, who celebrated her 100th birthday Tuesday, has no plans on retiring. That’s a good thing for the hospital and for patients.
Coletta said Mary has a remarkable effect on patients. She said they talk with her, learn of her age and “it brings them hope that anything is possible.”
Colleta said patients have “a little bit more fight, a little bit more spark,” after talking with Mary. After all, it was Mary’s fight and spark that got her the job three years ago.
Linda Cote, who works in the city’s tax assessor’s office, picked up on that spark when Mary stopped in Cote’s office back then. Mary was angry. She recently lost her job at Sam’s Club and was wondering where she was going to find work to pay taxes. Cote was in awe of her vitality and mentioned Mary to the Beacon. The newspaper made some calls and then ran her story.
The morning the story ran, David Campbell of the hospital’s human services department was on the phone. He didn’t like the thought that anyone should lose their job because of their age. He wanted to meet Mary because the hospital might have a job for the vibrant 97-year-old.
On Tuesday, Mary took all the fuss over her 100th birthday in stride. Although snow was flying, she chose to walk from the main hospital to the office tower, where friends, officials, co-workers and the media were waiting. The hospital arranged for “tea” with finger sandwiches, sweets and china settings. There was a giant card on an easel, with a picture of a much younger Mary, where all were welcome to write congratulatory messages.
Mary’s son, Raymond, who was visiting from California, praised his mother for getting the family through tough times, sometimes working two and three jobs. He said she was very supportive of his decision to pursue a career in music, yet “She never played favorites.” Mary’s daughter, Carol Kennedy, was in Warwick over the weekend to celebrate the birthday but had returned to Florida by Tuesday.
Ray offered a glimpse of Mary’s determination and how she fights for causes. He said when the family moved to Orange County in California, Mary headed up a group fighting the noise generated by the Burbank Airport.
Mary didn’t have any fighting words when she rose to address the assembly on Tuesday.
She called her job, “One of the best ever I’ve had in my whole life.” She went on about the wonderful people she has met and how patients will often contact her after being discharged. She also talked about being a waitress, running a cleaning crew, with a number of celebrity clients in California, and some of the causes she took up. They include campaigns to clean up graffiti, provide playgrounds and housing for those in need. She talked about meeting Nancy Reagan and disagreeing with her on a plan for a drug recovery unit in town. The facility was built elsewhere.
“I can’t tell you how many times I was in court,” she said. “So, I did a lot of fighting, won some and lost a few. Other than that, here I am,” she said modestly and sat down.
She keeps it simple and, most important, genuine.