George W. Burg: LLU Medical Center host extraordinaire
Since his employment in 1976, George W. Burg, the primary host for volunteer services/information desk, not only makes people feel welcome and at ease, but also helps keep traffic flowing smoothly around the circular drive at the main entrance of Loma Linda University Medical Center. Many of Mr. Burg’s contacts need assistance in and out of their vehicles. Some need wheelchairs and an escort into the lobby. All get a friendly smile.
Mr. Burg can make people chuckle with a little joke, even if they’ve heard him tell it before. His deadpan delivery, songs, and small-talk warm people’s heavy hearts as they head for chemotherapy, blood tests, or medical checkups. In high school Mr. Burg sang duets with a young woman who eventually became a singer with the Metropolitan Opera. But when
George Burg plays his homemade guitar circa 1935. Mr. Burg could be heard on radio station KIEM in Eureka, California.
Mr. Burg breaks into song now it’s usually a simple little ditty that tells a funny story, a talent he acquired in a weekly program he conducted as an aspiring cowboy singer on a start-up radio station in Northern California.
“Some people just need somebody to talk to,” says Mr. Burg, one of the most popular employees of the Medical Center. “We’re all part of the same human family.”
Ruthita J. Fike, MA, administrator and chief executive officer of the Medical Center, acknowledged Mr. Burg’s positive spirit and caring and helpful attitude in a letter sent July 11, 2005:
“Your untiring efforts to cheer and assist all who enter LLUMC’s doors are stellar. Mr. Burg, your concern, compassion, humor, and genuine caring spirit are a blessing to all who pass our way.”
Mr. Burg was a schoolteacher in Northern California and Hawaii for 16 years. One of his first-grade students in Hawaii eventually graduated from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine. Mr. Burg moved to Southern California because his wife, Dorothy, a voice teacher, had been a Loma Linda girl. She wanted to be back in the area. Mr. Burg has been affectionately called “Mr. Loma Linda,” “Mr. Customer Service,” and, looking like a state trooper, “the man in the funny hat.” He can greet people in a dozen different languages. One of his admirers was Desmond T. Doss, a World War II winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor.
At the announcement of his winning the Good Samaritan Award at the February 18, 2004, employee forum, the entire audience spontaneously erupted into a standing ovation. It was his third standing ovation; the largest occurring in a packed University Church.
In 1998 Mr. Burg was recognized as a semifinalist by the California Task Force for Older Workers. As such, he went to Sacramento and received an award signed by California governor Pete Wilson. Joseph Vernon Reed, former under-secretary of the United Nations, sent Mr. Burg some special cufflinks and a pin from the United Nations. Philanthropists have made donations to the International Heart Institute and the Cancer Institute in his honor.
Mr. Burg is greatly appreciated by B. Lyn Behrens, MBBS, president of the Medical Center, as exemplified in a letter she sent to him on October 12, 1999. In part, she wrote:
“I have received a wonderful letter from one of our visitors who has through the years found you to be a very special employee. I wanted to let you know I am grateful for the manner in which you exemplify Christ’s caring for others, many of whom are in need or distress.
“You are the first representative of this institution many of our visitors meet and through you establish their first impression of Loma Linda as a whole. You assist many patients and their families, helping their arrival or departure be as smooth as possible.
“Your many acts of kindness are not unnoticed. Thank you again for being such an ambassador of the Medical Center.”
Mr. Burg’s sense of humor comes through in a letter he sent to Dr. Behrens on December 28, 1999. This message also reflects the international outreach of the Medical Center.
“Since I’m so very modest, I’m enclosing a couple of letters; one from Joseph, and one from Pam and Ruth. I’ve also received a letter from two Doctors in China, and a businessman in Japan. Both sent their pictures. A little man from Egypt also invited me to Egypt to spend three weeks in his home.
“Do you see why I work at Loma Linda?
“Of course I only show letters like this to a ‘very select few thousand people.’”
Once an employee of the month, in 1990 Mr. Burg became an “employee of the year.”
Mr. Burg is reticent to tell his exact age, but he will admit to being the father of four adult children and to having been married for more than 50 years. In February 1999 a newspaper reporter got him to admit that he was 80 years old.
In 1987, Mr. Burg considered early retirement. In a quick response, Lynn Fiedler, an administrative secretary, quickly organized a petition to be signed by 2:00 p.m. that same day, April 15, 1987. It was addressed to members of the George Fan Club and said, “GEORGE, OUR HOSPITALITY MAN, is contemplating early retirement. The LLUMC front entrance would never be the same without our George. We the following PROTEST…”
It was signed by 498 Medical Center employees, including department heads and administrators. In addition to signing their names, some wrote personal messages, including, “You can never retire. You are too valuable to us.” The 498 signatures were written on 37 pages. When other employees heard about the petition they stated that they would also have participated had they known about it.
But validation also has come from patients and visitors themselves.
“I have had many opportunities to ‘run into’ Mr. Burg at the Medical Center—both when he greets me at the front door and in the hallways,” a pharmaceutical representative wrote. “He always has an infectious, genuine interest and pleasant attitude toward others and me. He even acts that way with visiting MD’s I am escorting to the Medical Center, my management team, and apparently anyone else that comes to LLUMC. Further, Mr. Burg has had kind words of encouragement for me when my family members and friends were patients at LLUMC…. He’s the best ambassador of good will at LLUMC that I have ever met.”
A woman from Fort Worth, Texas, wrote directly to Mr. Burg:
“You really make a difference George. What a great ministry the Lord has given you! Thank you for being so helpful to mom. You really helped keep her spirits up. Mom never dreaded coming to the hospital for treatment because of you. It’s so nice to have a friendly face to greet you every day—someone to make you smile.”
A young cancer patient once told hospital staff he wanted Mr. Burg’s job so that he could make people happy.
In a March 30, 1985, letter to then-president John D. Ruffcorn, Mr. Burg wrote in part:
“I am still amazed at the number of people who come to me from time to time with comments such as, ‘I’ve been to hospitals all over the country and I’ve never seen a hospital do anything like this.’ (Referring to the position of “host.”)
“One day I opened a car door to help a lady and was greeted with the words, ‘Oh what service.’ As I turned to push the chair and help the lady into the hospital the younger of the two ladies behind me said to her mother, ‘You see what I mean mother, just another example of a fine Adventist hospital. I really mean it mother, just another example of a good Adventist hospital.…’
“When people who have been active all of their lives suddenly find themselves incapacitated, such little things seem to loom so large in their eyes. A little help, a little hello, and it’s almost as though you had become part of the family….
“Thank you again for your kindness and for letting me be part of such ‘a great team.’ Sincerely, George Burg.”
Since August 2005, Mr. Burg has suffered a prolonged illness which has prevented him from working. In response, employees, moved by their admiration and appreciation, sent messages acknowledging their feelings. A nurse wrote:
“You probably don’t know me but I know you because I have been a nurse at LLUMC for 19+ years, and you have been there for longer than I! And I miss you!!! I heard you were ill, and wanted you to know I’m thinking of you and praying for you, and looking forward to the day when you will be back. You have been such a loyal and true representative of Christ, there at the threshold of His hospital. God bless you and be with you daily.”
To illustrate Mr. Burg’s popularity, during several months of recovery, appreciative fellow employees throughout the Medical Center have donated 200 hours from their paid leave banks to help supplement his income. Mr. Burg wants to thank everyone for their kind letters, cards, donations, and prayers. He misses being at the Medical Center and hopes to return soon.
* * *
By Richard Schaefer
Mr. Schaefer is the Loma Linda University historian. He may be contacted at his office in the Del E. Webb Memorial Library.