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Interview with Helen Majette, August 29, 2006 | UNCW Archives and Special Collections Online Database

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Interview with Helen Majette, August 29, 2006
August 29, 2006
Ms. Helen Jones Majette discusses her career at UNCW and elsewhere in this visual oral history interview. She earned a nursing diploma from Duke, a public health nursing bachelor's degree from UNC-CH, and a master's degree in nursing education from Columbia University. Her career took her to various outpatient and hospital clinical settings before she turned to the field of higher education. She taught in the nursing school at UNC-CH, earning tenure there, and at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC. She came to UNCW in 1979 to fill the spot vacated by Mary Alice Whitfield's retirement. Ms. Majette taught both in the ADN and BSN programs and directed the basic skills labs. Ms. Majette retired in 1989.
Phys. Desc:

Interviewee: Majette, Helen Interviewer: Riggins, Adina Date of Interview: 8/29/2006 Series: Voices of UNCW - Faculty/Staff Length: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Riggins: Hello. My name is Adina Riggins. I am the archivist of the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. I'm very pleased today to be at the home of Helen Jones Majette, who is a retired faculty member from the school of nursing and we'll be hearing her story today for our oral history collection. This will be a wonderful addition to the University archives. It is August 29, 2006 and we are in the home of Ms. Majette. Please state your name for the tape.

Helen Majette: I'm Helen Jones Majette.

Riggins: And how do you spell your last name?

Helen Majette: M-A-J-E-T-T-E.

Riggins: In our interview series for university archives, I always ask people to start off and give me some background information about yourself so we have a sense of who you are. Please tell us where you were born and where you grew up.

Helen Majette: Okay. I was born in Cumberland, N.C. which is about three miles from Virginia in the eastern part of the state. My father was killed accidentally when I was 7, leaving my mother with three little children, so we went to live with my maternal grandparents and I lived with them until I was 13. Then I went to Franklin, Virginia, and lived with an uncle and aunt and finished high school. And some of my friends from high school are still my very good friends now, that I have continued to keep in touch with. After I graduated from high school, I went to Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia for one year. I wanted to be a nurse but my mother thought that I didn't know what I was getting into, therefore, she said if you go to college for a year and you still want to be a nurse, then we'll talk about it. So I got busy and I went to Duke and I graduated from the nursing school at Duke in 1947.

Riggins: Your mother's response is interesting. Why did she have that feeling?

Helen Majette: She felt like nurses had to work so hard and she didn't think I knew what hard work really was and she thought I would not be able to make it and she didn't want me to start something I wouldn't make.

Riggins: Why do you suppose you have this interest in nursing?

Helen Majette: When I was four years old, I had meningitis and I was at the _________ Hospital at Virginia Beach for a month 'cause back in those days of course we didn't have any antibiotics, and I don't know what kind of meningitis I had, but I was hospitalized for a month, and I thought some of those nurses were so wonderful, and I thought, I would like to be a nurse. And this was when I was four years old. So I think that's when I decided to be a nurse.

Riggins: Do you remember that experience?

Helen Majette: Very vaguely. I think I remember it more from mother's telling me tales about it than my actual memory.

Riggins: I'm sure it must have been traumatic in most ways?

Helen Majette: Yeah, I remember, I think I remember, the horrible spinal taps that I used to have to have because they did do spinal taps frequently. I think I remember that; I'm not sure but what my mother had told me and I remember from that.

Riggins: How did they get the infection out?

Helen Majette: It must have been-- see, I had meningitis again when I was working in New York City, way, much, much later in, let's see, that was 1960, yeah, after I finished graduate school. But I had meningitis a second time and that time I know it was viral because none of the antibiotics did any good, and then I was hospitalized for a month in Manhattan.

Riggins: And of course you remember that.

Helen Majette: I remember that very, very well. Absolutely.

Riggins: So the nurses were just so helpful to you as a young child-

Helen Majette: That I decided I wanted to be a nurse. So I went to Duke and graduated there in 1947 and at that time there were two programs. If you had two years of college with all the basic sciences, you got a degree; otherwise, you got a diploma. So I didn't have all the basic sciences, in fact I'm surprised to this day that I ever graduated because I was competing with people who had had two years at Duke in chemistry and all kinds of stuff. But I had good friends who tutored me, who were in my program, that really tutored me, and one of those good friends ended up on Figure Eight after she and her husband retired and we were good friends until she died a few years ago. We kept in contact through the years. Anyway, if she had not helped me and a couple of other people that had had college courses, really did help me.

Riggins: At Mary Washington College, was there a nursing program there?

Helen Majette: No, there wasn't a nursing program there. And I really was just sort of taking courses to prove to my mother that I wanted to be a nurse. I got basic psychology and basic math and you know, some things that I eventually could transfer but I didn't have chemistry or anatomy or anything of that sort.

Riggins: And you finished at Duke after how many years?

Helen Majette: It was three years. In fact it was a little over three years. I graduated in '47.

Riggins: With a bachelor's of science in nursing?

Helen Majette: No, I just got a diploma. I got a diploma in nursing. Whereas my friend, Coco, got a bachelor's because she had two years of college before she came into the program.

Riggins: So you came in--

Helen Majette: Well, see, it was during the Second World War and I was in the cadet corps and that was a program that paid your expenses and then after you graduated you were obligated to go into the service. But by the time I graduated the war was over, so I didn't have to go into service. But it was amazing, the responsibility we had during that program because as a sophomore student nurse I was the only nurse on a unit of neurosurgery patients and neurology patients for night duty. I mean, the only nurse. Can you believe that? But there were so many nurses with the Duke Unit that was serving with the service over in Italy at the time. A lot of our doctors and a lot of our nurses were in what was called the Duke Unit and it was, as I recall, it was in Italy.

Riggins: So Durham must have been pretty quiet. That's where I'm from. Was Ruby Wilson (ph?) in your-

Helen Majette: No, she came many years later. Dean Pinkerton (ph?) was our dean and then after her, when we graduated, there was Dean Wilson and then after Dean Wilson, I think there was somebody else before Ruby Wilson.

Riggins: She lived, still lives, in my parent's neighborhood.

Helen Majette: I still get information from Duke all the time and I see pictures of her. So she's still around.

Riggins: So Durham must have been pretty quiet then. Did you have time to see Durham?

Helen Majette: Not really. But you know, I remember when I left Virginia to go to Duke to have all my interviews and stuff, I went on the bus, and of course, went by myself, and I had my little suitcase and I went to Raleigh and had to change buses and then went to Durham and at the bus station they told me what bus to take and I took a bus down to Five Points and then I had to change buses in Five Points. Well, by then I was so worn out I left my little suitcase on the bus and I went to catch the bus to Duke and I realized I had left my suitcase. And there was a gentleman there who was involved with the buses somehow, anyhow, he said, "Okay, lady, what you need to do is go back over there and those buses that just went that way will be coming back that way, and your suitcase should be on that bus." Sure enough, it was. I got my little suitcase and went back to catch the bus out to Duke and that gentleman was getting off duty, he said, "Lady, I'll be glad to take you to--." Never occurred to me that it was not the thing to do, I jumped in his car and he took me straight to Baker House and it was wonderful. But wasn't that a nice story? He was really so nice and so concerned that I get myself to Baker House.

Riggins: Where is Baker House?

Helen Majette: Baker House is at the end of the old building, where everything has changed so much there now, I don't know how to even tell you. If you were in the parking garage and you looked out from the parking garage toward the hospital, it would be the first thing you see on your left. And that used to be the nurse's residence and it was named for the first dean of the school- no, not dean- yeah, the dean of the school of nursing, who was Baker. Baker house. And it's still called Baker House.

Riggins: Is that where you lived the whole time?

Helen Majette: No, because during the war, of course, we started with 125 nurses in my class or students in my classes, and we graduated only 49 out of the 125. But they built a new building, I don't know whether you know that building over on Erwin Road, that is the John Hope Franklin building now, but it's on Erwin Road and across from the current school of nursing, but that was built as a nursing residence, and so I moved over there. Then eventually I moved back to Baker House and there were about oh, 12 of us, that lived in the basement of Baker House and we got to just be close friends. And my friend Coco, out on Figure Eight, was one of those that lived in that--

Riggins: What was the training like at Duke?

Helen Majette: Oh, it was hard work, but all of our classes were over in the medical school, we didn't have a classroom building, and most of our classes were taught by medical school professors, but it was a busy time. A busy time.

Riggins: I'm sure it was, they really needed nurses-

Helen Majette: Terribly.

Riggins: So people didn't graduate maybe because they had other obligations or because of the war or maybe they had to go and work--

Helen Majette: Well, we would have had to go into service, but the war was over. I remember VE Day and VJ Day while I was still a student and everything was wild, you know, everybody-- horns were blowing, everybody was, it was just crazy. It was marvelous--

Riggins: Why do you suppose so many fewer nurses finished than started?

Helen Majette: Well, I think there were a lot of reasons. Some people flunked out, but that wasn't the only reason. There were people that got in it who had just decided they wanted to do something great for the war but realized this wasn't what they really wanted to do. There were people whose families moved and they didn't want to be left behind, who moved. I know, my first roommate, her father was in the service and was stationed in North Carolina and they went back to Illinois, and she went back to Illinois. So it was that kind of thing. So a lot of the students for various reasons didn't graduate.

Riggins: What did you do upon completion of your diploma?

Helen Majette: I went to Virginia Beach where I had an awful good time in high school and got myself a job at a nursing home and I lasted two weeks because the lady who owned it and operated it was an alcoholic and it was absolutely impossible. So, like I say, I left in two weeks. I told her I would give her two weeks' notice so she could get somebody else or I would leave after having a problem with her when she was drunk. So that took care of that.

Riggins: So that was an early introduction to work place problems?

Helen Majette: Oh, it was just awful. It was just two blocks from the ocean, you know, so I just thought I've got it made, this is wonderful. But as I say, I lasted two weeks. And then after that I found out about a program over in Chapel Hill where if you worked, I mean, if you went to 12 months of school and became a public health nurse and worked for the state of North Carolina for two years, they would pay your tuition. So I got myself busy and went down there and got into that program and worked for two years after the program was over in Raleigh as a public health nurse, and that was an interesting experience.

Riggins: What did that involve?

Helen Majette: Well, I was a school nurse for several different schools. I had a district in the city of Raleigh and one of my responsibilities was to go to Rex Hospital or the OB clinic, and I followed the OB patients that came to the clinic and took records back to the health department. I had clinics in schools. It was an interesting--

Riggins: You were out and about--

Helen Majette: That's right. And I had clinics in federal housing areas where I would give injections to the little children, the infants and stuff. All sorts of things, responsibilities. But I did that, I was obligated to do it for two years and I did it for two and a half, but I was so burned out, I thought I just can't do this anymore. I just can't. And so I got myself a job as a camp nurse in Vermont for the entire summer on Lake Champlain and it was an absolute _______, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Wonderful. I learned to water ski, I learned a little bit about sailing, not a whole lot, it takes a lot more experience than that to learn to sail, but it was really a very interesting experience. I had an infirmary with four beds where I could have students or campers. The campers were all, many of them were second generations that had come to that camp, their parents frequently had gone to Europe for the summer and sent the kids to camp.

Riggins: Oh, wealthy.

Helen Majette: That's right. But it was amazing; what I did most of the time was to work with kids who were homesick. And it really was interesting, very interesting. I didn't have any real bad problems. I had a terrible dislocated elbow, a girl fell from a horse and we had to take her into Burlington to the hospital there and get that set. And then I had another girl that fell from a horse and the horse wiggled on her leg, on top of her leg, and that was badly bruised, but it was just a bad bruise, so I didn't have-- she had to stay in the infirmary for about three nights. But other than that, I just worked with homesickness.

Riggins: So that was a nice change after being a public health nurse?

Helen Majette: It surely was. Oh, we're just going on and on about all my little escapades.

Riggins: No, no, this is great. Well--

Helen Majette: And after that, well, I almost got married. I was dating somebody during that time but I decided not to, and then I did private duty at home and saved money to go back and get a degree in Chapel Hill, and so eventually I did go back to Chapel Hill and I had a cousin who lived there. And see at that time I was a resident of Virginia but the reason I was a resident of Virginia was because my daddy had died, and you know, all this stuff. And so my cousin said go over and talk to somebody she knew, and let them know that you really would be a resident of North Carolina if things hadn't gone wrong for you. And sure enough, they let me in as a resident of North Carolina. And so I had saved enough money to pay all my tuition. Otherwise, I was going to have to quit and work again and save some more money in order to finish. But I transferred all the courses that I had taken at Mary Washington, and when I was doing public health in Raleigh I took some courses out at State at night and I transferred all those courses. So I had enough to get a degree.

Riggins: And you had to take some more at UNC?

Helen Majette: Oh yeah. I got a degree in public health nursing, because I had all that public health previously. So I got a degree in public health nursing.

Riggins: What kind of degree was that?

Helen Majette: It wasn't a BSN and I was trying to think-- of course, the hospital was there, and the school was there.

Riggins: Jane Lowe was one of the first BSN--

Helen Majette: Yeah, I know it. And I finished, let's see, she finished probably in the early-- I finished in '56, and then I was the assistant supervisor in the outpatient department, because see, I'd had public health and so I was the assistant supervisor in the outpatient department, and then I went back to graduate school, went to Columbia and got a master's in nursing education.

Riggins: Really? You just thought you wanted to continue your education while you can, didn't want to be held back?

Helen Majette: That's right, just kept going, kept going. And then after I finished, as I told you earlier, I had meningitis. After I finished in New York, I worked for the Manhattan VA for about a year and I developed meningitis and was hospitalized in Manhattan for about a month and then my mother came and stayed for all that time and they got a room for her in the interns' quarters at the Manhattan VA. Of course, I couldn't go to the VA; I was someplace else. But anyway. So we finally came home, came back to Virginia and I was out of work for about four months. I was very depleted, needless to say, and then I finally went back to Chapel Hill as an instructor in in-service education.

Riggins: Were you looking for a teaching position at that time?

Helen Majette: Not really. The person who was director of in-service education left several years after I got there and then I became director of in-service, and then eventually was assistant director of nursing in charge of in-service and then from there I went on the faculty in Chapel Hill, until I was-- I got tenured on faculty in Chapel Hill. So interesting.

Riggins: So that's what you're doing. What does it mean to be the director of in-service?

Helen Majette: It was orienting new nurses when they came, we also had a program for training nursing assistants, we had a program, we developed a program for LPN-2 level that allowed them to give medications. We set up a course with Durham Technical Institute to teach them pharmacology, the LPNs, and then supervised their practice in the hospital and then they became LPN-2s and could give meds. Up to that time we didn't have that. The other thing that we started that had never been done before, you know, it was amazing how frequently we were short staffed at the beginning of the summer because so many of the nurses were married to students on campus, so when the students left, a lot of our nurses left, so what we did was to set up a program with-- we started with medical students, pharmacy students and medical students-- medical students, dental students and pharmacy students, to give medications and we taught them our method of giving medications and supervised their practice, and then they could work as medication assistants. We found out that the pharmacy students were the students who were actually the most motivated, and so the next year we didn't open it to anybody but pharmacy students and eventually the pharmacist came from Ohio State who was interested in getting that program set up as a part of a pharmacy curriculum, so we eventually got it set up in the pharmacy curriculum, which was wonderful--

Riggins: So they could get credit--

Helen Majette: They would get credit for it and then we could just really teach 'em anything we wanted to teach 'em. It was really wonderful. So that worked-- I think they still have that.

Riggins: You've done quite a bit of moving around. It sounds like you found a home, at least for a while, in Chapel Hill.

Helen Majette: Oh yeah, I went back to Chapel Hill three different times. I lived in Chapel Hill three different times.

Riggins: Just the academic environment, teaching hospital?

Helen Majette: Right.

Riggins: What were some of the changes in the nursing profession that you observed up until this time?

Helen Majette: Oh, it's hard to even think back at where I started. It really is, because when I was a student at Duke one of the things that we had to do was get some experience in-- I can't remember what we called that area, but it was where you sterilized everything, we even made IV fluids, we sterilized all of the equipment that was used at the hospital, and part of our experience as nurses is we had to float through there and see how all of this was done and help with doing it, you know, so that we'd have an appreciation for the fact. Of course now all of this stuff is purchased; no hospital does any of it.

Riggins: Did you have develop x-rays? That may have been a different department.

Helen Majette: No, I didn't ever have to do that.

Riggins: Do you know at the hospital did they actually develop it there in the darkroom?

Helen Majette: Oh, I think they did, but I don't know that for a fact. But talking about x-rays, at one point, when I was a student, I slipped on ice and fell flat on my back, and really hurt my back, and kept going back to the orthopedic clinic, and orthopedic clinic, and finally one of the residents said, "I'm going to try a chiropractor's trick on you." I mean, it was the kind of thing, I would wake up in the morning, I would be fine, but after I had stood on my feet all day, my back killed me. He said, "I'm going to try a chiropractor's trick on you, but if you ever tell Leonard ___________ that I did it, I'm going to swear you're lying." Okay. He got me up on the table and had the nurse jerk me in one direction and put my knee in a different direction and something popped in my back. I never had that pain any more. But isn't that amazing. He was so proud. He couldn't stand it. I don't know whether he ever told ____________or not, I didn't.

Riggins: Who was Leonard _____________? I know the name.

Helen Majette: He was the chief of orthopedics in the beginning, when that hospital began. See, the hospital was 15 years old when I was there, and see, that's been a long time ago.

Riggins: And it was the only hospital, it preceded the hospital at Chapel Hill?

Helen Majette: Oh, yeah. Chapel Hill didn't have a hospital-- in fact, they didn't have a hospital when I got my certificate in public health. We used to have picnics on the ground back behind the school of public health where the hospital is now. You know, they had a two-year medical school. There was no four-year medicine. And I had a cousin who was in that two-year medical school. And I think his mother used to send him money and say go over to Duke and take Helen out to dinner, because he used to come over periodically and take me out to dinner.

Riggins: That's amazing. Yeah, I think I remember hearing about the two-year medical school, which, you know, was needed at the time.

Helen Majette: Oh, yeah. And he went on to Philadelphia and finished medical school and eventually, by the time he was ready to do a residency, the hospital was open and he came back and did a medical residency and I was back in school in Chapel Hill then so I got to know him and his wife and his children. And he eventually went to Roanoke and practiced medicine, internal medicine.

Riggins: A medical family.

Helen Majette: Right.

Riggins: Now, what else do you remember about Chapel Hill? You had a career there, it sounds like you were very active. Nurses often are, you don't just stay in your ivory tower. You do a lot of clinical work and-

Helen Majette: I was trying to think, I really thoroughly enjoyed living in Chapel Hill and we did all kinds of things. Of course I remember going down to the gym and waiting in line trying to get tickets to basketball games and all that kind of thing. I don't know.

Riggins: How did you find your way to UNCW or Wilmington?

Helen Majette: Okay. My friend Nancy Gillihan (ph?) was on the faculty down here and she knew that, what's the name, Westbrook?

Riggins: Betty C. Westbrook was the librarian?

Helen Majette: No, no, no.

Riggins: Mary Alice Whitfield.

Helen Majette: Whitfield. Mary Alice Whitfield, that's right. Okay. She knew that she was leaving, and so I flew down and had an interview with, oh what's his name, Plyler, yeah, Dr. Plyler.

Riggins: So you flew, that's interesting?

Helen Majette: And also with Dorothy Dixon.

Riggins: And you flew?

Helen Majette: I flew, I think I was in Charlotte at the time and my mother lived to be 103, she was in Charlotte and I flew back and forth to Charlotte all the time, so I think that's the reason. I think Nancy called me and told me and that's the reason I flew.

Riggins: You were working still in Chapel Hill?

Helen Majette: Right.

Riggins: And how did you know Nancy Dillon (ph?).

Helen Majette: She was on the faculty at Chapel Hill when I was on the faculty.

Helen Majette: Had she been there longer than you, or...?

Helen Majette: Nancy got her master's from Chapel Hill and then I think she stayed down there. Because while I was still assistant director of nursing at the hospital, Nancy and I both were living in Glen Maddox (ph?) and so I used to see her there before I went on the faculty. And then after I went on the faculty we got to be real good friends. And then we had another real good friend who was on the faculty who came here in the public health department, Betty West.

Riggins: Oh, she came to Wilmington?

Helen Majette: Uh-huh, she left the faculty and came to Wilmington to the health department. Her name was Betty West.

Riggins: So you came to the interview with Dean Plyler, he was the dean then I guess.

Helen Majette: I guess so. And Dorothy Dixon. So I talked with both of them.

Riggins: And what were they looking for?

Helen Majette: Well, I think Dean Plyler, I had known some, a lot of people that he had known in Chapel Hill and I don't know, we just had an interesting conversation. I can't remember now, it was somebody on the- I don't know. It's hard to remember back that far. That's 20-- how many years' ago? Oh, it was '79. That's when I came. That's right.

Riggins: And they needed someone. What did you think of the college?

Helen Majette: That's when, as I say, you know, the first responsibility I had on the faculty was to be a part of this particular course, and I can't remember now what course it was, but we would always get together in the beginning before the course started and everybody would decide what they were going to do, who was going to do which lecture and what was going to occur, and it all just worked just like clockwork, it was beautiful.

Riggins: People were cooperative and responsible-

Helen Majette: People were very cooperative and helpful and I just, I was very impressed. Very impressed.

Riggins: So when you came you saw a small university compared to--

Helen Majette: That's right, and it was a subject degree program instead of a baccalaureate program.

Riggins: And you thought you were ready for a change?

Helen Majette: That's right. But you know, something that I forgot to include is that when I left Chapel Hill, they were trying to get me to do all kinds of research and all this kind of stuff, and I really wasn't interested in doing that and they had sent me to Central Piedmont to take a look at the way they taught basic skills, because they had a basic skills lab there that was so good. So I went down there and got all this information, and I thought, you know, I really like that place. And so I went there and I taught there for five years. I left Chapel Hill and taught at Central Piedmont for five years even though I had tenure in Chapel Hill.

Riggins: Because you just liked the feel?

Helen Majette: I was very impressed with the students, many of them were people who wanted to become a nurse but they decided to get married and had several kids and still wanted to be a nurse and could do it in that program. It was just amazing to me how wonderful many of those students were. So I really enjoyed working with them. But the thing about it was after five years, you just went from one quarter, it was on the quarter system, from one quarter to the next quarter to the next quarter and you have a few days in-between. I got burned out, absolutely burned out, so when Nancy knew of that program, I mean, that vacancy here, I came running down here. And then I had summers off. That made a big difference.

Riggins: And people were helpful-- who do you remember who was helpful like that?

Helen Majette: I remember Doretha; I remember Jane Lowe. They both were extremely helpful. I remember of course Nancy, and then Nancy Haddock (ph?) came later, I'm trying to think, and of course Alan came after I came. I always felt like Alan was very instrumental in our getting the NLN approval for this program.

Riggins: And that stands for the accreditation?

Helen Majette: Yes, the accreditation. National League for Nursing.

Riggins: That was a big deal.

Helen Majette: Oh, listen, that was something that had to get done in order for the program to get going. There's no question about that.

Riggins: So when you came you taught in the ADM program but pretty soon did you teach in-

Helen Majette: That's right, I had one foot in one and one foot in the other. And then I became responsible for the skills lab, for the baccalaureate program, so that was around the clock again. I don't mean around the clock, but around the calendar, so I went on a 12-month appointment for the last four years when I was there.

Riggins: That must have been an adjustment.

Helen Majette: It was, because I had had fun with the summers.

Riggins: What kinds of things did you do in the summers?

Helen Majette: Oh, we went to Europe one summer, a friend of mine from Chapel Hill and I, in fact I've just been going through all those pictures, but that was a fun time, we went over there for three weeks and had an awful good time. And that was the year before I went on that 12-month appointment.

Riggins: What do you remember about your students from your early days?

Helen Majette: Talking about students, the other day I was at my doctor's office, and as I sat down this girl came over to me and said, "Aren't you Ms. Majette?" and I said yes, I am, and I looked at her and I thought I've never seen you before in my life, and she said, "I was your student." And of course that happens because I taught in Chapel Hill, I taught in Charlotte and I've taught here, it's amazing how many different students you have. But anyway, she was somebody that I had taught here, she was very complimentary, I was very pleased.

Riggins: Where did you work in Charlotte?

Helen Majette: I taught at Central Piedmont College. I never worked there, but I definitely had students in the clinical areas there at Charlotte Memorial Hospital and all sorts of places.

Riggins: Okay.

Helen Majette: But I never worked there, except at Central Piedmont. But my mother was living in Charlotte and my mother lived to be 103 and her retirement home was in Charlotte, so I was running back and forth from here, too. She died in '99.

Riggins: Did you have a specialty? Was it in public policy?

Helen Majette: Well, not really, when I was on the faculty in Chapel Hill my area was vascular, I had students in the vascular area. But I was more just general med surg.

Riggins: What did you like about that area?

Helen Majette: I don't know. I think that the whole vascular system is fascinating, and I think there's no question an awful lot can be done to correct problems in that area.

Riggins: Did you direct clinicals while you were here?

Helen Majette: I always had students in the clinical area. But it usually was med surg, and I did do some OB/GYN. I never felt real competent in OB/GYN, but that was something they needed help with so I was available and I tried.

Riggins: When you were at UNCW, how involved were you in the changes in the curriculum?

Helen Majette: Well, of course, the major change in curriculum, of course, was when we went from associate degree program to a baccalaureate. There were just major changes that had to be made then. We had committee meetings after committee meetings after committee meetings. Somebody asked me not long ago what sort of volunteer work I did. I said, listen, I had so many committees all my working life I'm never going to be on another committee as long as I live, any kind of committee.

Riggins: Yeah, it's hard, isn't it? Did you chair some of them?

Helen Majette: Oh, yeah, some of them. Let's see, I was on the- oh, I can't even remember. I was on the- I don't know. I really can't remember. It's been so long.

Riggins: Oh, it has been, I know. Like you were saying, you retired over 15 years ago.

Helen Majette: It's over 15 years, see, that I retired, and a lot of this was long before then.

Riggins: Right. And the structure has changed. But you're doing good. That's one reason why you don't feel a need to volunteer now?

Helen Majette: I should say not.

Riggins: Well, it sounds like you really found your calling with teaching combined with nursing. You got your master's degree in nursing education?

Helen Majette: Yeah, I got that at Columbia. And I thoroughly enjoyed living in New York. I can't imagine living there now, but it was delightful then. I was very fortunate in that one of the professors at Columbia had a season ticket to the Metropolitan Opera and there were a lot of times he didn't want to go, a lot of times he was not interested in the production, and so he would put his ticket on the bulletin board to be bought. Okay, I bought it a couple of times, and then I got to know his secretary and so his secretary would call me when he didn't want to go. So I got to use his ticket an awful lot while I was in school. Then every time I went I sat between his mother and another lady from New Jersey. Okay, to make a long story short, the lady from New Jersey and her husband were retiring from a university over there and they had a home in Maine and so they decided they were going to live in Maine for one year and see, they really wanted to sell their home. Okay. I said, "What are you going to do your opera ticket?" And she said, "Well, I have a neighbor who has asked me about it." And I said, "Oh, I wish I had known." So long story short, she sold half of it to me and half of it to the neighbor. So when I went to work at the VA in New York, I said I will work any hours you want me to work but I need to be off every other Saturday matinee, and sure enough, I was, and got to go to the opera every other Saturday. You know, if you know anything about New York, it is hard to get tickets to the opera, the Metropolitan. Unbelievable.

Riggins: Did you know you liked the opera before you went?

Helen Majette: Oh, yeah. I had had a course at Chapel Hill in opera and oratorio, an elective that I had taken.

Riggins: What made you decide to go to New York for graduate school?

Helen Majette: Well, I had a good friend who was getting her master's in journalism at Columbia and she was living at International House, and so I made appointments at Columbia, NYU and New York/Cornell. Made appointments to go and talk to all those people about money and the only place that had any scholarship money was Columbia, so that's the reason I happened to go to Columbia. And then I had stayed with this friend at International House when I had all those appointments, so I got a room at International House. And it was 60 percent foreign and 40 percent North American including Canadians, so that was a very interesting experience. It was really funny because I have a typical eastern Virginia accent and one of my friends was from Nova Scotia and our accents were so similar it was unbelievable. They accused her of being from Virginia and accused me of being from Nova Scotia.

Riggins: I've noticed your accent; I'm not familiar with it.

Helen Majette: It's eastern Virginia.

Riggins: It's southern, and at times I've thought you sounded Canadian.

Helen Majette: That's right, see, that's it. But she was from Nova Scotia and people used to accuse her of being from Virginia.

Riggins: So that degree certainly served you well, because when you came down here for example, in order to teach in the BSN program you had to have a master's, right?

Helen Majette: Yeah.

Riggins: So you were able to straddle both--

Helen Majette: Well, see, at Chapel Hill I had to have a master's to teach there. And of course now you almost have to have a doctorate. It's getting more difficult and more difficult.

Riggins: What were your feelings when the ADM program phased out? I believe the last class was '86 or so.

Helen Majette: Well, I think we had worked so hard on getting the baccalaureate program going we were just attuned to how well are we going to do with the baccalaureate students, you know, we were just hoping and praying that all of our work was going to prove that we were doing a good job. And of course, we had 100 percent pass for a while there. So we were very pleased about that.

Riggins: Right. How were the students? Did they remind you of your students at Central Piedmont at all? Or were they different?

Helen Majette: You mean the baccalaureate students or...?

Riggins: Either one. The UNCW students in general.

Helen Majette: Yeah. I think in Charlotte there were more older students than there were in the program here, but we had older students in the program here, too. But the thing that always impressed me so about those students was the fact that they had wanted to be nurses so bad and their little families were supporting them 100 percent. The kids were doing all kinds of things at home to help mama have time to study and the husband was doing the same thing. I just felt like that was just so heartwarming, to see the extent to which whole families were pulling together to get mama through school.

Riggins: That's nice. And then here, there were, at UNCW, did you find that there were some motivated students?

Helen Majette: Oh, yes, there were some of those, but it seems to be that in Charlotte there might have been more of that. But there was some of it here, also.

Riggins: How did it go with the baccalaureate program; of course, you had the good pass rate, the 100 percent pass rate.

Helen Majette: That's right.

Riggins: What do you remember-

Helen Majette: Of course my part in the baccalaureate program was strictly skills lab.

Riggins: What does that involve?

Helen Majette: Well, it involves all of the basic patient care kinds of things, like how do you give a bath, how do you do all the treatments that have to be done, that sort of thing. Is that rain?

Riggins: Yes.

Helen Majette: My car windows are open. It sure is loud.

Riggins: Okay, we're back after a short break. We were talking about the faculty meetings. I remember hearing about a time when all the faculty would meet to take care of business, the entire faculty. Do you remember that? And it would it get to be pretty lengthy after a while?

Helen Majette: You mean for the whole university? Uh-huh. It was. It was lengthy. But we didn't have too many of them. They didn't occur that often, I don't think. Sort of the beginning of the year.

Riggins: Dr. Wagoner-

Helen Majette: Yeah, right.

Riggins: Did you ever get to know him?

Helen Majette: No, I was just aware of who he was, I never had any contact with him.

Riggins: What about the library? Did you get to know anybody at the library, like Louise Jackson would have come--

Helen Majette: No, I really never got to know anybody over there. Used to, you know, go over there and check things out, but I never really got to know anybody over there. And as I say, I was on the faculty senate, but I really never got to know people in the senate that much. We were so busy in the school of nursing we didn't have time to do a whole lot of running around.

Riggins: Did you work with the New Hanover Regional hospital?

Helen Majette: Uh-huh. Well, it was the kind of thing that you had students that were in the clinical area that were there and I would always go over and sort of work in the clinical area where I was going to have students, ahead of time, so I was aware of how everything was supposed to be. And I had a student that, not too long again, that I bumped into over at Cape Fear, and she said, "You always knew what we were supposed to know and if we didn't know it you saw to it that we found out." But it was true. If you didn't really know what was going on with patients, you weren't really sure whether the students were finding out what they needed to know.

Riggins: What would you say your teaching style was?

Helen Majette: I have no idea.

Riggins: But you liked it? You always liked teaching?

Helen Majette: Yeah. Yeah. I don't know that I would say I had any kind of style. It was just I enjoyed contact with students.

Riggins: And getting exposure to the field and all of that.

Helen Majette: That's right. And watching the lights come on, it's really sort of interesting when, sometimes students don't understand why they're learning this and why they're learning that, and then all of a sudden they see things come together that they hadn't realized would ever come together, and that's kinda fun.

Riggins: Right, I can see that. How about the students who really had to struggle for every B or every-- do you remember working with students who--

Helen Majette: Yeah, and I can remember working with students who decided they didn't want to be a nurse, you know, and I think it's important that they recognized that. And I can remember particularly when I was in Central Piedmont there were students that you knew would never be able to be good nurses, so what you tried to do was to convince them that something else was what they really would enjoy. You know. And I think a lot of times you could do that, could convince them, not that nursing wasn't able to absorb them, but it would really be something they would enjoy more in another area. And sometimes you could do that without really being ugly.

Riggins: That seems hard.

Helen Majette: It is.

Riggins: To get your point across. Well, we have only a few minutes left on this tape, and I don't want to get cut off, so I'd like to change tapes and before we end for today, I'd like to talk to you about what you've been doing in the last 15, 16 years since retirement. So if you don't mind I'll switch tapes.

(tape change)

Riggins: We're back. My name is Adina Riggins and I'm the university archivist. I'm here in the home of Helen Jones Majette on August 29, 2006, for the completion of our interview. I wanted to follow up today with a question about what have you been doing in retirement. I guess around about 1989, you decided it was time to retire; you'd been working long enough. And it would have been a good--

Helen Majette: I've been here for 10 years.

Riggins: But working as a nurse for--

Helen Majette: Oh, I worked for the state of North Carolina for 33 years. And I had-- Every time I went back to school, I had taken out my retirement money because I needed it, and then I realized at some point that I could put it back, and so I did. I bought back the years that I had pulled the money out for, so I ended up with 33 years in the state.

Riggins: So you could retire. Which is a good deal, I think.

Helen Majette: Yeah, that helped.

Riggins: From what I understand, if you're going to work for the state, retirement is something worth investing in. What were your plans for retirement? Obviously you like the beach?

Helen Majette: That's right. Well, see, that's one of the biggest reasons I came here, because it was so close to the beach. Because I grew up not far from Virginia Beach and we went there a lot when I was a child. So getting close to the ocean's important. My brother used to say that he thought we were part-- what are those little things, little-- sea turtles, because you turn us a loose and we'll go straight to the ocean, and that's the truth.

Riggins: Do you go to the beach now?

Helen Majette: I walk on the beach several times a week, but I usually, this kind of weather, I go early, early morning; late afternoon, it's still awful hot, but early morning is nice. So sometimes I go at seven o'clock in the morning, several times a week. But what I've been doing since I retired, my mother, as I told you earlier, lived to be 103, and she was in a retirement home in Charlotte, so I spent an awful lot of time running back and forth to Charlotte, because mother died in '99, see, so all of that time of my retirement. And then my brother, the grandfather of these little girls, was a mechanical engineer and had his own business in Charlotte, but he had a severe stroke and eventually moved to Southern Pines. He was confined to a wheelchair and had been an avid golfer and fisherman and all that kind of thing, and so what I used to do is to bring him here for two weeks in the fall and two weeks in the spring because they were his favorite times. When he was well, they had a place down at Sunset Beach and he used to thoroughly enjoy going down there and fishing and stuff. So I used to bring him down here and take him down to Wrightsville and feed him lots of seafood. He had several fraternity brothers that lived in the area and he enjoyed seeing them, and it gives his wife a break, too. But he had another severe stroke 10 years later. His stroke was in '88 and then in '98 he had another severe stroke and then lasted just a week. So, he's gone. And that was about just six months before mother died, so I had to go tell mother that he was gone. And she really, at 103, she really didn't remember, and when I would leave her to go back to Southern Pines, she would always say, "And tell Joe hi for me." So I thought, I told her, she doesn't remember, that's all that's necessary. So I never did push it any further.

Riggins: So you were doing some geriatric nursing.

Helen Majette: That's right. I really did.

Riggins: In your retirement.

Helen Majette: I really did. It helped; it helped a lot. Because I had power of attorney for mother and so, you know, during that early retirement, I was paying all her bills and taking care, getting her to the doctor; I'd go down and get her to the doctor and that kind of stuff.

Riggins: You didn't leave your profession--

Helen Majette: That's right, just kept right on going.

Riggins: With your family. But you still-- you see friends a lot I understand.

Helen Majette: Yeah, and I have good friends in Chapel Hill that still come down, like they were down here weekend before last, come frequently.

Riggins: And you just knew that when you retired you'd like to stay in this area because of the beach?

Helen Majette: That's right. I need to get to the ocean, just like the sea turtle.

Riggins: Well, yeah, and just like our students, I think that's a reason why the students come.

Helen Majette: I think so, too.

Riggins: And they end up getting an education along the way, but they're drawn to the beach, which makes a lot of sense. Well, any of your nieces or nephews, any of them go into the medical field?

Helen Majette: No, I told you about Pretlow [ph?], the fact that he's in St. John and has a sportswear business. My other nephew, Joe's other son, is in San Diego; he is a mechanical engineer like his daddy, and he went to graduate school at Georgia Tech and has worked with Hewlett Packard ever since he finished. He's research and development with them and has been ever since he finished graduate school. He was here about a month ago, so I had a nice little visit with him.

Riggins: Yeah, this is different from San Diego.

Helen Majette: Oh, I know it, he keeps trying to get me out there but I'm not sure I'll ever go.

Riggins: You haven't been yet?

Helen Majette: No.

Riggins: It's beautiful but different.

Helen Majette: I've been Seattle but I've never been down south on the coast at all.

Riggins: Oh, really; to California?

Helen Majette: No, I've never been to California.

Riggins: Oh, really.

Helen Majette: No, I've been all the way up and down the east coast. I've vacationed in Key West and all up and down the east coast, but I've never been, except to Seattle.

Riggins: I've not been there, but I've heard it's nice.

Helen Majette: It is; it's fun.

Riggins: Any overseas traveling? Doesn't sound like you had time for that in retirement.

Helen Majette: No, uh-uh, I went to Europe, as I told you earlier, in '84 and was over there for three weeks and then I've been to London a couple of times for various things. I go to Washington periodically. We like to go to the museum in Washington. I went to the, who is this? Vermeer.

Riggins: Vermeer. National Gallery of Art. You said you worked in Washington?

Helen Majette: Yes, I worked in Washington for a year right after I finished nursing school.

Riggins: In an Army hospital or...?

Helen Majette: In a Doctor's Hospital down at 19th and I, I'm not sure whether it's still in operation or not. But I lived with a girl that I had known in nursing school, and her husband, and their daughter's my godchild; we're good friends.

Riggins: Well, it does sound like you were able to do what you liked in your career?

Helen Majette: Yeah, I was. And I feel very fortunate. And I really feel fortunate to have state retirement, I really do, because with all the conversation these days about the lack of retirement programs in various businesses, I feel like I'm very fortunate. I'm not sure that even in the state it's going to continue because there's an awful lot of rumors that are coming along.

Riggins: Yeah, the pressure might be too great.

Helen Majette: That's right, that's right. There was an article in the paper the other day of the fact that Medicare, you know, it's taken such a big hunk and the hospitalization that the state retirees have is getting to be an extreme problem for retirement in this state. So I don't know where--

Riggins: Something to watch.

Helen Majette: That's right.

Riggins: There's a lot of economics that goes on with medical care.

Helen Majette: Oh, I should say. It goes up and up and up.

Riggins: No easy solutions. Well, this has been most enjoyable.

Helen Majette: I feel like I've filled you with all kinds of stuff, I'm not at all sure it's all that interesting.

Riggins: Oh, no, it definitely has been interesting to me and it will be to others. Like I said, the current dean, Dean Adams, is very interested in the nursing school and very interested in all the oral histories we're doing, our roots, where we come from and where we're going. I think they want to have a history exhibit in the new building about the school of nursing at UNCW. So it sounds like you enjoyed it while you were there.

Helen Majette: Oh, I did. I really did.

Riggins: A good place to finish out your service to the state.

Helen Majette: Absolutely. Absolutely. And as I say, I was here for 10 years; I mean I was on the faculty for 10 years, so that was good. And I'm still enjoying the beach.

Riggins: Well, I thank you. Do you have any other questions for me or any closing thoughts?

Helen Majette: I don't think so, I don't think so.

Riggins: Well, I thank you very much and would like to let you know also that we will send you a copy of this videotape. I see you have a video cassette player; do you play video cassettes or DVDs?

Helen Majette: I don't even know.

Riggins: Probably just like that. I'll send you a video cassette copy, so that you can share it and have it and I'll send you my card as well. I don't believe I have a card with me.

Helen Majette: And I'll talk to Nancy. I have a sneaking feeling that she's not going to have anything to do with it. She didn't sound like it, didn't she?

Riggins: No, she didn't. She just said, "I don't believe I'm interested." And I told her the people I talked to, and she said, "Well, I'm glad they talked to you." I was hopeful that that would encourage her to do it herself.

Helen Majette: I'll talk to her, because I talk to her a couple of times a month.

Riggins: Oh, that would be real nice. Because she was there before you--

Helen Majette: She was the one that told me about the fact that Ms. Whitfield was leaving and that I should apply.

Riggins: Very instrumental person.

Helen Majette: That's right. I wouldn't have known about it. Absolutely.

Riggins: So a very important person. Well, thank you very much.

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