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A Trailblazing Nurse: Morning Pointe of Tullahoma Resident June Pugh

Nursing has long been a field of opportunity, and for June Pugh, a resident at Morning Pointe of Tullahoma, Tennessee, that was certainly the case.

June has an illustrious career as a nurse and has left a legacy in the field, making the path better for generations to come.

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Growing Up in Atlanta

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in March 1938, June grew up following the Great Depression. She remembers that for a while, the family lived with her grandmother. And even though her father was a dependable worker, he still had a hard time finding jobs.

The family lived in low-income housing until June was 5, then in a triplex across from Grant Park downtown.

“The most wonderful thing my mother and dad did for me was to be regular attendees at the Methodist Church,” June shared about her childhood. “I’ve always known Jesus, always loved him. I’d walk to Sunday school.”

June would also walk to her grandmother’s house, which wasn’t far away.

“She had a big influence on my life,” June said about her. “She told me, ‘You ought to be a nurse,’ and she kept planting the seeds.”

June’s grandmother wasn’t the only one to suggest the career path.

“An eye doctor talked to me about being a nurse,” June said. “He said if I was going to be a nurse, I should go to college.”

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photo of June and her nursing class
June and her nursing class

Education

By this time, June’s father was an independent businessman and owned a grocery store, so the family was doing fairly well. Still, putting a daughter through college was a sacrifice. But her father loved and believed in education, and in June, and she enrolled in Emory University.

June inherited her love of learning from her father and had a voracious literary appetite. College was like a little bit of heaven.

“I loved every minute of it,” June said.

The first two years, June did general studies, and for three years following, she took her nursing classes, spending three months in every specialty.

The highlights for June were her pediatric and psychiatric clinical rotations. Not only did she learn a lot firsthand, but she also got to travel. First, she flew to Baltimore, Maryland, and trained at Johns Hopkins University’s mental hospital. The field caught her interest.

“I’ve never been a real technical person as far as operating machinery goes,” June said. “The instrument I have to use in psych nursing is myself. I have an ability to talk to people, and I’m a good listener.”

After her time in Baltimore, June took a train to New York City, where she studied pediatrics at Columbia University for three months.

“It was a wonderful experience,” June remembered. “My girlfriends and I went and did everything there was to do in New York. I saw ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘The Music Man’ on Broadway. We rode the subway – it was really hectic, and people could knock you over. I was actually in New York for Christmas Day.”

Pediatrics, though, wasn’t for June. She remembers feeling so sad for the parents who had to leave their children in the hospital overnight due to the policy at the time and the children crying for their mommies and daddies.

June graduated with her bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1960.

At the time, the psychiatric movement was shifting away from large institutionalized care centers and more toward small mental health clinics. The government was offering scholarships to nurses who would go on to teach psych nursing. With June’s love of learning and interest in psychology, it was too good an offer to turn down.

There were three schools offering master’s in psych nursing at the time. One was the University of Colorado in Denver.

“I had never been west of the Mississippi,” said June of her choice.

A friend of hers, Miriam, also got a job in Denver, so the two of them set off and roomed together while June did her studies.

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June and Jim's wedding photo
June and Jim’s wedding photo

Destiny and Spaghetti

What were two single young ladies just out of college to do? Meet eligible young men, of course!

While June was a Methodist, Miriam was a Baptist, and between the two of them, they visited each other’s churches in part to double their odds of meeting a charming suitor.

As time went on, Miriam started seeing an airman from Lowry Air Force Base whose name was Chuck. Then, one day, Chuck was coming over for dinner with the ladies, and June was standing at the kitchen window of the third-floor apartment making spaghetti and sauce.

“There was Chuck getting out of the car, and I said, ‘Miriam, that’s Chuck, and he’s got someone with him, and he’s CUTE.’”

June added more pasta to the pot for their unexpected additional guest. His name was Jim Pugh, and it was Oct. 3, 1960.

“We just hit it off right off the bat,” June remembered. “The next afternoon, I was studying, and he called and said, ‘Do you want to get a root beer?’”

The couple married in March 1961.

Every year on Oct. 3 throughout their marriage, the Pughs made spaghetti for dinner to commemorate their meeting. Even when Jim was in the hospital toward the end of his life and came out of a coma on Oct. 4, he requested their traditional meal. And June carries on the tradition in memory of her true love.

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Teaching at Emory

After June earned her master’s, the newlyweds settled in Atlanta. June started teaching at Emory University, and they lived in faculty housing.

Soon, June was pregnant with their first daughter, and Jennifer was born in 1962. In 1968, Janet followed.

During her teaching, June emphasized compassion.

“The main thing is to listen more than you talk,” she said. “Body language tells you a lot about someone. You have to focus on the patient and what their fears and needs might be.”

Her favorite compliment was from a supervisor who observed June interacting with a schizophrenic patient in the hospital. June was able to get the woman to calm down and sit down.

“You treat your patients with such dignity,” June’s supervisor said.

June shared, “My philosophy of both nursing and parenting is as follows: A good nurse or parent is not someone to lean on but someone who helps make leaning unnecessary.”

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Serving Middle Tennessee and Developing Training

When Jim accepted a job in Nashville as chief engineer for a recording studio, the family moved to Tennessee. June got a job in nursing at the Nashville Veterans Affairs Medical Center, where she worked for 23 years.

She considers that time the most rewarding of her life, especially the 10 years she worked as a clinical specialist on the alcohol and drug unit.

“My patients had no coping skills with life except for alcohol,” June explained. “We had a two-week inpatient program and tried to help them with their coping skills, and then they came to outpatient visits once a week.”

While June was at the VA, she was asked to do in-service trainings on employee/manager relations.

“We were looking for material to teach, and we just couldn’t find anything for nurses,” June shared. “We kept saying somebody ought to write a book about it.”

That “somebody” was June and her fellow psychiatric clinical specialist MaryAnn Woodward-Smith. Together, they authored “Nurse Manager: A Practical Guide to Better Employee Relations.” The book has since been translated into other languages, including Spanish and Japanese.

“After I retired from the VA, we started doing workshops around the country,” June said of the next stage in her career.

The Pughs moved to Lynchburg, Tennessee, and built a house.

June was not ready to retire just yet, though. She started looking for a part-time job, opened up the newspaper, and saw an ad for a community education coordinator at Middle Tennessee Medical Center in Murfreesboro.

“I loved it,” June said. “My job was to set up training programs and seminars.”

June served at the medical center for five years before deciding the traffic was just too bad.

She stayed busy, though, and worked for a while in sales at Peebles clothing store and as a hostess at the internationally known Miss Mary Bobo’s Restaurant in Lynchburg. She is a contributing writer to “The Moore County News.”

June also self-published a children’s Bible story book, “A Donkey Tale,” about nine years ago.

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photo of June (right) with her friend Martha
June (right) with her friend Martha

Moving to Morning Pointe

Jim passed away in October 2019.

“After he died, I was living in a big house by myself, and that was fine for a while,” June said.

However, with traffic, June was soon nervous about driving and would ask for rides to the doctor. She talked to her daughter Janet, an occupational therapist who lived in Winchester, TN, about options for assisted living. “Janet had worked in several assisted living facilities in the area, and she had a good opinion of Morning Pointe,” June said. “We looked at it together, and I decided this was where I would like to be. I got on a waiting list.”

June even spent a day visiting her friend Martha at Morning Pointe of Tullahoma, and that solidified her decision. June moved in on Aug. 9, 2022.

June shared that she enjoys the blend of autonomy and support she has.

“When I get up in the morning, I can talk with someone, and if I don’t want to, I don’t have to,” she said. “I like all the individual choices I have. I have my room decorated the way I like. And the workers are just so pleasant.”

June is proud of being able to help others as a nurse and educator, and also of her daughters and her two grandchildren. She continues to share her thoughts through writing as she has her own inspirational column, “Accentuate the Positive,” in the community’s monthly newsletter, “The Messenger.”

We are proud of June and the mark she continues to leave as a resident at Morning Pointe!

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