On a memorable day for them in 1920, Luke and Ella Catoe McLaughlin welcomed their fourth child and only daughter, Annie B., into the world. The McLaughlins then lived on their farm in the Sandy Grove area of the greater Cassatt community. Cassatt was their post office.
Being the baby and only girl in the family, her older brothers doted on, loved and protected their sister. She relates, “Well, from the time I could walk I rode on my brother’s plow until I got so big I was sinking the plow down … then I walked between him and the handlebars. Finally he gave me the plow and let me plow.”
Annie B. described her father as being a workaholic. “He believed in working before daylight until after dark. He would get up and feed his mules and mama would have breakfast for him and he’d sit down on the porch and wait for daylight so he could go to work.”
Her father had several hundred acres around Sandy Grove and Cassatt on which he grew cotton, corn, oats and wheat. A few tenants and his sons supplied most of the labor for his farming operation.
For a decade or more in the 1920s-30s he operated the cotton gin at Cassatt for his neighbors, the Ratcliffes. He couldn’t drive a car and when his driver once didn’t show up, Annie B. drove her father to Cassatt with him changing the gears and she steering the car. She was nine at the time but South Carolina did not require drivers’ licenses until a few years later.
Luke McLaughlin was also a millwright. He built and maintained many grist mills in eastern Kershaw County for about three decades. For example, when millstones wore down, he “sharpened” them with a rock pick axe.
Annie B. grew up during the Great Depression but it affected her very little.
“We had plenty of chickens, turkeys, guineas, vegetables and my mother canned everything she could get her hands on. We also had several milk cows ... so, really, I was not aware of it like other people were.”
Annie B. attended Oakland Grammar and Midway High from which she graduated in 1937. Her father insisted she go to college and after an abortive two or three days in a Spartanburg college, she returned home and persuaded him to permit her to become a nurse. At the young age of 17, she entered the student nursing program at Camden Hospital.
Her nursing career began in this manner. “They put us on a floor to work right away but we only gave baths, bedpans and stuff like that. Then we got some book learning. The doctors taught us and the senior nurses were our supervisors and taught us how to do bedside nursing.
“I remember the first hypodermic I gave. The man was getting over a drunk and was cussing, tossing and carrying on and they told me I had to give him his hypodermic. I fixed it, but by the time I got to the bed I had lost all the solution in the syringe. I stuck him anyway. I was suspecting him [the doctor] to get on me. He just turned to the nurse and said, ‘Go fix me another one.’ That was all there was to it.”
When asked if she knew Bernard Baruch, the famous Wall Street financier, Camden native and hospital benefactor, she responded. “I remember seeing him and he was a large man I think, not too big, and he was very nice. He would leave money for the student nurses’ entertainment, $100. The hospital gave it to us in 10-cent amounts to go to the movies, etc.”
Annie B. related a funny story about her student nursing days.
“One night I had a drunk patient who had minor injuries and he wouldn’t let me go near his bed. Every time I started to go to the bed he would start out the other side. I decided to just sit and not bother him.
“A few days later I met him downtown in Camden and he said to me, ‘That night you nursed me I thought you were an angel and I knew I had been bad and I was not ready to die. Every time you moved I wanted to run.’”
Annie B. graduated in 1941 from the Camden Hospital nursing program, passed the state test to become a registered nurse, and soon was nursing private patients. Shortly thereafter, the Camden Hospital called her to come take the place of a night nurse supervisor who had resigned. This temporary job became permanent and she soon was placed on rotating shifts with the day supervisor.
She continued to work at the hospital until she went to Oak Ridge, Tenn., with her husband, Billy Mickle, who had a job in that nuclear facility.
She became a nurse there in the government-run hospital and stated she learned much new medical and nursing information while there. After WWII ended, she returned to Camden Hospital for a time before attending the University of South Carolina for more training in nursing.
After completing her work there, she returned to Camden Hospital. She taught nursing arts, professional nursing and math to student nurses at the hospital in addition to her nurse supervising responsibilities.
Her husband, Billy Mickle, passed away in 1948, and in 1952, she married Tommy Brannan. In the mid-1950s she became the director of nursing at Camden Hospital. Annie B. held that position when the Camden Hospital moved from Fair Street to its present location.
Annie B. always wanted children of her own but was unable to bear them. In 1958, she and Tommie adopted two young children and she gave up nursing and became a full time mother.
When nursing, her favorite wards in the hospital were the maternity and children’s wards. She stated simply: “I loved children.” Yours truly can attest to that fact. Annie B. stayed up all night on October 17, 1950, with her in-labor niece and my spouse, Ella Catherine McLaughlin Teal.
About 6:00 the next morning, she brought out to me our first child, Iris Gwendolyn Teal. As she held Iris in her arms, her face just radiated the purest love, tenderness, care and joy. I will always remember and cherish that moment with our daughter and her great-aunt.
Annie B.s’ love of children led her to temporarily take custody of an African American baby abandoned at the hospital. Some days later she was able to locate a relative who took custody of the baby.
Annie B. and Tommie also “took in” and reared for varying periods of time the following: two young children her married daughter was baby-sitting and raised them for nine years; with their daughter’s permission, cooperation and continued involvement with her children, adopted their two grandchildren when her daughter divorced her husband; and took in a troubled youth for a few years. She stated: “I had somebody in school from 1958-91.”
Annie B. learned caring for others from her parents and grandparents who “took in” similar family members or young people of the community. Annie B. relates: “At one time, my grandmother was feeding five extra boys from the family.”
From the tender age of 17, it is abundantly clear that Annie B. McLaughlin Brannan unselfishly has given her heart and hands to the service of others as a nurse, mother, grandmother and spouse.
Two years ago on her 90th birthday, dozens and dozens of family, extended family, former patients and friends honored and paid tribute to her at a reception at Pinedale, the senior citizens care facility where she now resides. Such dedication to the service of others should always be recognized, respected and honored. May this column be a small way to do just that.