From an early age, Joyce McGarity loved being around others.
As a student at Rock Hill High School, she would walk right up to new people, tell them her name and strike up a conversation.
She was once invited to become a personal secretary at an insurance office, where she’d spend her time mostly on her own, with maybe one other boss.
“I said, ‘I can’t do that; where would I find people to talk to and to help?’” said McGarity. “I just don’t think I could do that.”
McGarity, 79, retired Friday after 52 years of working in every capacity she could at Shiland Family Medicine on Riverchase Boulevard. She’s stuck it out at her beloved job through building changes, new managers, births, deaths and everything in between.
After more than five decades, including thousands of patients, doctors and families coming in and out of the door, McGarity said she’s feeling ambivalent about hanging up her scrubs and name tag one last time.
“I guess one of them is happiness, that I’m in good health,” she said. “The other is sadness, that I’ll be leaving my friends here that I love. The doctors and the staff and all those that I worked with ... I really enjoyed working here.”
There’s a distinction between official duties and what McGarity did on a daily basis. As recently as a few years ago, says director Patrice Harthorne, McGarity was almost always the first person around the office to handle medical records, keep physicians’ planners, organize charts and distribute schedules.
Shiland’s “jack-of-all-trades” has also served as the practice’s historian, able to recollect the days when the practice was located on Ebenezer Road, when typewriters were considered the office norm and when medical charts only came in print form. But McGarity swiftly adapted to change: She learned how to use a computer and used it to check insurance forms or set appointments.
McGarity still operates in a delightful throwback fashion: She picks up phones instead of answering them with a headset, and she enjoys hand-delivering notes to people.
She was once recommended for the Carolinas Healthcare System Pinnacle Award that honors employees who demonstrate core values such as caring, commitment and integrity.
“That’s just the person that she is,” said Harthorne. “She’s always happy and pleasant. Patients flag her down because she’s such a wonderful person.”
Retirement will give McGarity the chance to finally get back to her roots – spiritually and literally. She’s looking forward to tending to her flower garden and taking care of young children at the nursery at Westminster Presbyterian Church.
She’s excited to spend more time with her great-granddaughter – “she’ll come and hug my legs and get me to play with her” – and with her husband, Donald, with whom she’ll celebrate 61 years of marriage this December.
But McGarity isn’t closing the door on Shiland: It’s still a possibility she’ll be back as a volunteer, maybe once a week or so. She’s already set up a few lunch dates with her now-former colleagues, to be enjoyed throughout the coming weeks.
She’ll miss seeing the newborn babies, who coo and laugh with her. She’ll miss interacting with everyone from the nurses to the security guards. She’ll even miss opening the mail.
“This is a great place to work,” she said. “I’m just glad I’m ending it on a Friday so I don’t have to feel bad about not coming in tomorrow.”