Passionate about public health, local’s service honored by state

Feb. 05, 2014 @ 09:37 PM

For more than 30 years, Vivian Paynter attended to the health needs of residents of Granville, Vance and Warren counties.

Her service was recognized recently when she was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, the highest civilian honor in the state.

When she announced her retirement near the end of 2013, Granville-Vance Board of Health Chairman Ed Mims wanted to do something to recognize her years of service.

“I contacted our state representative, Winkie Wilkins,” Mims said. “The staff had put together a citation. Based on the criteria, Ms. Paynter qualified in number of years of service, of stellar service. We got Rep. Wilkins to contact the governor’s office. When it was signed, I picked it up and carried it back. The staff had it framed, so it made a nice presentation. It’s well deserved, and it was an honor and a privilege to present it to her. She’s meant so much to the region.”

The Order of the Long Leaf Pine has been awarded to individuals with names as familiar as Michael Jordan, Billy Graham and Andy Griffith.

“But it’s not often it goes to somebody who’s been in the trenches,” Mims said.

Those figurative trenches are where Paynter spent her career, beginning in Wilson, where she worked in a tuberculosis hospital. When she and her husband, Macey Paynter, moved to Warren County, she taught in the practical nursing program at Vance-Granville Community College.

After taking a break to stay at home with her young children, she resumed her career as coordinator of the family planning and communicable disease programs at the Warren County Health Department. She worked there for more than 12 years before moving to the Granville-Vance District Health Department, where she remained for 20 years.

“I hired her as nursing supervisor, and she did a wonderful job,” said Dr. Roddy Drake, who was district health director for many of those years. “She’s a dedicated, thoughtful, caring person. She was a good supervisor, not only of the nurses. She also dealt with contracts we had with the state for the provision of certain services. She was good at reviewing contracts. It’s a very varied task. She did a stellar job.”

Current Granville-Vance Health Director Lisa Macon Harrison agreed Paynter did an excellent job whatever the task.

“Vivian definitely was an important part of this health department for many years,” she said. “Public health nursing demands a lot of kinds of knowledge for dealing with individuals and the public at large, including many laws and regulations. She had a great knowledge base.”

Paynter seemed awed by the award.

“It’s very humbling,” she said. “It certainly is an honor.”

But she quickly shifted to a discussion of her favorite subject: the importance of public health and the changes she has seen during her career.

“One thing that stands out in my mind is the immunizations for preventable diseases; vaccinations have made a big difference in the incidence of the diseases for which they are given,” she said. “When I was in nursing school, we saw a lot of sick babies with pertussis. They were so sick. You don’t see that much any more, and it’s because of immunizations.

“When I started out in public health, there was no Internet. We might get a telephone call about an outbreak. Now, there is a statewide network. If there is a food poisoning outbreak in Wake County, we know about it.”

She credited others for improvements in health services for the local population, including Drake, and she mentioned the department’s Health Promotion Coordinator and Health Education Supervisor, Jackie Sergent, for the decrease in obesity.

Paynter and her husband live in the Afton community in Warren County. They have three adult children. Rann lives in Richmond, Va., and works for the Virginia Bankers Association. Sarah is a student. Wendy is married to Lee Short and teaches at E.O. Young Elementary School. The Paynters have four grandchildren: Hannah, 19; Will, 14; Emily, 13; and Hampton, 11.

Paynter was active in the N.C. Association of Public Health Nurse Administrators, serving in several offices including the presidency in 2002-2003. In 2007 the association recognized her with the Estelle Fulp award, which is given to a member who has made significant contributions to public health nursing or patient care.

Paynter said the collaboration of so many community organizations is a key toward improving the health of residents.

“I’ve had the honor of working with so many organizations who are all working for the good of the county,” she said.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.