Cradling her one-year-old son in one arm and her bag in the other, Leanna Webb walked through the doors of Waikato Hospital’s neonatal clinic.
It was April 24 1968 – her son’s first birthday and her first day of work.
“The clinic was in the basement of the Campbell Johnstone Building back in those days,” she said.
Remembering the many faces that came and went through the department she said it was an interesting place to work.
“I certainly learned how to play golf because back in those days if the maternity ward needed something that was how we raised the money for it – but I couldn’t hit a golf ball to save my life.”
In her time as the ward’s receptionist she remembers Dr Tony Cull’s antics but gives no more away than “we really had a lot of giggles”.
Leanna had only recently completed her maternity training in Henderson, Auckland before she moved to Hamilton. With a young family to raise she opted to work in the ward’s reception.
Despite not wanting to leave her baby boy with a stranger she eventually found someone who would go on to become an extended part of the family.
“I remember one day when I was bathing him he said to me “if you are Mum, who is that?” pointing to the woman standing by the door.
“I thought right then well if I am mum, we will call her Honey and 47 years later she is still called Honey.”
Over the years Webb worked under three different matrons in maternity but said there was never a favourite.
“They all had their styles. One of the biggest changes we went from was matrons wearing their full whites with veils to slowly moving into mufti.”
Later on Webb became involved with the Waikato Area Health Board’s credit union.
“Its functions were always very fun but what they really taught us was how to save – which as young people was a big must – the union helped us buy our first homes – it really was superb.”
There were a lot of marvellous people in the credit union that went on to become lead people at the hospital now.
As the years passed, Webb become more involved with different aspects of the hospital and wider community. Working her way through several departments in the hospital she had the opportunity to see its operational complexity.
For the past 37 years she has been secretary of the Waikato District Health Board’s Staff Health and Benefit Society, a role she said has challenged her professionally and personally.
“You learn about other facets of life that are nowhere near what you have experienced; the society has taught me how marvellous it is to be able to help people with funding of any sort.”
Attached to the idea of helping people, Leanna became a St John’s volunteer which gave her the opportunity to travel across the country.
In 2010 St John’s selected 10 volunteers from the Waikato to provide aid for victims of the Christchurch earthquake.
“I was very fortunate to have that opportunity – I did five days down there and it was a real eye opener.
“The reality is you have to be inside an earthquake to really feel it and when you do you learn how humble you have to be,” she said.
“Sometimes we would be doing our chores and then we would feel an aftershock. The first thing you would see is people’s eyes pop open – I have never seen that fear before; it was a terrible look.”
As fate would have it Leanna’s role in Purchasing was soon disestablished and she moved from that area into Mental Health and Addictions in the Henry Rongomau Bennett Centre.
“I wasn’t sure what I was walking in to but the staff here have blown me away,” she said.
“Oh my goodness the last two years have been an absolute ball. We see a lot here at reception; you see families with a lot of frustration and anxiety. We just try to keep smiling but we get the nurses who have the ability to comfort and support them.”
Leanna Webb said her time at the hospital had taught her about the complexity of people’s lives.
“I have seen and experienced several different people’s way of life. It feels a shame that we learn all these things so late in life.”
But when you ask Webb to describe what kept her devoted to the organisation for 46 years it came down to one ideology.
“What I’ve come to love about Waikato Hospital (and the district health board) is there are no differences – if you are black or white it doesn’t matter, everyone is equal here.
“We are all on the same floor, it just matters about whatever foot you want to put forward first.”
See photos from Leanna’s farewell.
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