Gillian Paterson has lived a life of service dating back to World War II, and not once did she ever expect anything in return.
But maybe a tea party at the Wisteria Tea Room & Caf in downtown Fort Myers was the least her friends at Cape Coral Hospital could do to honor Paterson, 87, who has volunteered there since the beginning in 1976.
Many of Paterson's fellow volunteers threw a surprise party for her Friday to celebrate her 37 years and nearly 28,000 hours of giving.
Wendy Piascik, Cape Coral Hospital vice president of patient care services, makes some remarks about volunteer Gillian Paterson at a party being thrown in Paterson’s honor at the Wisteria Tea Room and Cafe in Fort Myers on Friday.
"I enjoy it, and I have so many friends. You're made to feel useful," Paterson said. "To be appreciated is the most important thing."
Paterson has devoted nearly all her time to the OB ward, where she has sewn baby hats and afghans, anything to keep a new baby warm and happy.
She has also been president of the auxiliary and has trained countless volunteers.
Janine Barnes, volunteer coordinator at the hospital, gave her a framed certificate to commemorate her time of service, and also talked about what she wrote on her application when she began volunteering.
"On her application, it was asked what job she liked the least, she answered 'sitting around doing nothing,"' Barnes said.
Paterson was born and raised in England and served in the Royal Navy (where she joked she served rum to the sailors), and met her husband while helping him recuperate from wounds suffered during World War II. They married and moved to the United States in 1948.
When Paterson joked she wouldn't have met her husband if it weren't for volunteering, Wendy Piascik, a hospital executive, said. "So, that's what it's about," to many laughs.
Other longtime volunteers, such as Ray Quigel, who has for 17 years, said Paterson has been indispensable.
"It's amazing what she has done. She's there almost every day," Quigel said. "She taught me about the floor and so much about the birth center."
Paterson volunteered with the Red Cross for almost 25 years before coming to Cape Coral and beginning her volunteer work when the hospital opened.
Paterson, a widow, has four children, all of whom served in the military.
"There was no hospital when we first moved here and I was happy when they announced it would be built and there would be an auxiliary," Paterson said. "I had volunteered for the Red Cross when my husband was in the Air Force. I decided it was the next step."
Paterson devoted as many as four days a week to her job after her husband passed away, but after her doctor told her to cut back, she's gone to one day a week.
Paterson said she would take some time off this summer to visit her son and daughter before returning to her volunteer work, "If they'll have her," she said with a laugh.
"I'll do this as long as I can. I may not last to 100, but I'll try to make it to 90," Paterson said.
Paterson said she never expected to live that long to serve 37 years and have worked the same hours of a full-time employee would work for more than 13 years, and she thanks the hospital for that.
"Having something to come in to and all the wonderful people who work there, they make volunteers feel so welcome. It's the high point of my week," Paterson said. "Being able to help people is really the best thing that ever happened to me."