For Becca Maddox, retiring from Georgia Highlands College after two decades and during COVID-19 remote operations is a bittersweet experience.
But the former director of nursing’s family’s roots with the college, her time mentoring and helping cultivate the next generation of healthcare workers, and her unwavering pride for GHC culminate, for her, as a long career of success and happiness.
As the college moved to remote operations during her last year before retirement, Maddox wasn’t sure exactly what her celebration would look like or if it could even happen. However, her friends and colleagues made sure to provide her with a sendoff she will always remember.
It all started with a proposal for a virtual “going away” party.
“When we started the Zoom session, I was told to go to my front door,” Maddox said. “When I opened the door, there were gifts, chips, salsa, guacamole and margaritas waiting there for me. The gifts were awesome! They had put together a scrapbook covering my 20-plus years at (GHC). They had also had a wall hanging and quilt made.”
Each faculty member had been given a square to decorate however they wished. They had also tracked down many faculty who taught with her in the past. Some of the squares were embroidered, some were hand drawn with fabric paint and some were transfers of photos.
“They were about my personal life and hobbies, represented good memories from throughout the years, relationships and friendships formed and the family we have all become,” Maddox said.
Teaching, mentoring over the years
Maddox has seen GHC change names and grow across the region over the past 20 years, transitioning from a junior college to a two-year unit of the University System of Georgia and then to a state college.
“When I first started teaching, we were on the Floyd campus. When I returned in 1998, the nursing program had moved to Heritage Hall,” Maddox said. “That has been my primary location.”
She also taught a few classes when the college was on Gilmer Street in Cartersville and occasionally on the North Metro and Southern Polytechnic college campuses. She also was there when the nursing program was offered at the WellStar Development Center.
Running the gamut of instruction formats, Maddox said she always sought the same result from her students.
“I love teaching, both face-to-face and online. I enjoy watching the light bulb come on when students begin to grasp difficult concepts and start putting all the pieces together,” she said. “I enjoyed being in the clinical setting working with students and caring for patients with them.”
She had high standards in the clinical setting, she said, but the students strived to meet and exceed them.
Maddox said she also appreciates the experiences she has had serving as a mentor for students, helping them to find their path in higher education. Students would occasionally enter health-based programs that didn’t fit their personal strengths and skillsets, and she’d help them find the right program to bring them academic and professional success.
“I enjoy advising students. I strive to be the person for them that my father was for me,” Maddox said.
Navigating the educational system can be difficult, she noted, and many students declare nursing as their pathway because that is what they know about.
“Occasionally I ran into students who didn’t really want to be a nurse, but who didn’t know what other healthcare options were available,” she said. “Some were there because their parents wanted them to be a nurse. Nursing school is hard — too hard if you don’t really want to be there.”
One student’s token of thanks
Maddox has made an impression on students over the years. In one example a student took a page from the traditional exchange of military challenge coins, presented by unit commanders — via a handshake — to recognize a special achievement.
The surprise exchange for Maddox came during the college’s spring 2012 pinning ceremony.
“It is a very emotional ceremony. Many students hug me after receiving their pins,” she said. “During this ceremony, one of the students came across the stage to get her pin, but instead of hugging me, she stepped back and shook my hand. At first I was a bit perplexed, then realized that there was something in that handshake.”
She looked down at their hands and then back up to the student, who was “just grinning the biggest grin.”
“She had tracked down a Nursing challenge coin and had passed it to me in the handshake,” Maddox said. “It brought me to tears, and still does when I remember it. I still carry that challenge coin with me.”
A family tradition
Maddox said she will always be thankful for the lessons she has learned and skills she obtained on her path as a teacher, an assistant director, an interim chair and a director.
Her family’s history echoed through the halls of Georgia Highlands College, often bringing back memories as well as inspiration to continue a tradition of excellence.
GHC’s Heritage Hall is named for the late Judge James D. Maddox, whose family once owned the property where the building now sits. He is known for being one of the individuals who helped establish Floyd Junior College, now GHC, by spearheading the effort to pass a $3.2 million bond issue to begin construction on the institution in 1970.
“It wasn’t too long after the plaque of Dad’s picture was hung in the building. I was sitting at the desk in Centre Stage while students were taking a final,” Maddox said. “I was thinking about everything that had been going on at the college. All of the changes. All of the changes in my life since Dad had passed away. I looked up, and there he was.”
The plaque is hung so that, incidentally, his picture lines up with the little window in both the outer and inner doors to Centre Stage. It lined straight up with where she was sitting at the time.
“As I said, Heritage Hall is my home away from home and dad was looking over us,” she said.