U.S. Congressman Mark Walker was a special guest at Hugh Chatham Memorial Hospital’s celebration Wednesday for being selected as a recipient of two Women’s Choice Awards for being one of America’s 100 Best Hospitals for Patient Experience and having one of the nation’s best stroke centers.
In introducing Walker, Hugh Chatham Chief Executive Officer Paul Hammes said he had learned a couple of things about the 6th District congressman. “His mother-in-law (Linda Sears of Winston-Salem) was born here,” he said.
“And I still came anyway,” Walker quipped.
Hammes responded in jest, “I’m not sure if I like that remark, but …”
Walker’s wife, Kelly, a nurse practitioner for Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, also has landed on Hugh Chatham’s helipad, Hammes said, “so she’s actually been here from a different vantage point shall we say.”
The congressman also “plays a little trumpet on the side,” Hammes said. “He’s very cool.”
Walker responded, “51 percent think that, so that’s a good thing.”
Wednesday was Walker’s first official visit to Elkin since being sworn in as the 6th District congressman in January. Winning with 58.67 percent of the vote, he defeated Democrat Laura Fjeld in last year’s Nov. 4 election to claim the seat held by Howard Coble for 30 years.
Addressing Hugh Chatham staff and Elkin leaders gathered in the hospital’s Board of Trustees meeting room, Walker thanked them for representing the community so well. “We live in a world today where there’s a lot of talk,” he said. “Every month, it seems like there’s an awareness this, an awareness that … but there are very few times we actually see the action steps with it.
“After winning this award not once, not twice but for the third year in a row, I think that says you guys have gotten the action steps done as well.”
In addition to the Women’s Choice Award for Patient Experience and Best Stroke Center, Walker said he heard Elkin had also received a “Best Wired Community” award. “I asked Kyle (Hall, his field representative), ‘Does that mean they’re probably just excited?’” he joked. “He said, ‘No, that’s a technical term.’”
Walker said it is a privilege and a great responsibility for him to represent the 800,000 people in the 6th Congressional District. “And as the representative of this area,” he said, “it makes me proud on the D.C. side that you guys are getting great leadership with Paul and his background and experience and how he has integrated that philosophy with what you guys are already doing.”
In answering a question about what he considers to be the most important legislation he is working on, Walker said it is a bill he is cosponsoring that would allow states to opt out of federal education mandates. “That’s a bill we’re working very hard on,” he said.
Walker said he also is working on legislation addressing the growing problem of human trafficking, in which North Carolina ranks 10th in the nation.
Before leaving, he and Hall were given a tour of the hospital.
Hall, in a telephone interview afterward, said he had just posted on social media all the places they visited on their tour through Elkin. “It was a great day,” he said.
The first stop was a tour of the Pittsburgh Glass Works manufacturing plant. “Congressman Walker was amazed at the opportunities that are available for citizens there and for that company,” Hall said. “They’re looking to expand in the future, and I think Congressman Walker was very impressed with the opportunities they have with Surry Community College to help train employees to work in that plant.”
The most moving part of the day for Walker was being able to present a Purple Heart to the family of the late Thorbourn Cockerham, World War II veteran.
Walker also had lunch at Speedy Chef with Myra Cook, president of the Yadkin Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Misty Matthews, vice president of marketing, growth and development for the chamber; along with Dr. Randy Bledsoe, superintendent of the Elkin City Schools; Dr. Travis Reeves, superintendent of the Surry County Schools; and Dr. David Shockley, president of Surry Community College.
Hall said Walker also enjoyed being interviewed by 100.9 WIFM Radio about what led him to run for the 6th District Congressional seat previously held by Howard Coble for 30 years and his experiences since he was sworn into office in January.
Walker spent 15 years in the ministry before becoming a congressman, stepping down as the pastor of Lawndale Baptist Church in Greensboro in January of 2014 to run for the 6th District seat.
Kathy Chaffin may be reached at 336-258-4058.