Vickroy: Famous Ray a welcoming fixture at MetroSouth
By Donna Vickroy email@example.com Twitter: @dvickroy March 9, 2013 1:14AM
Ray Welcome, of Evergreen Park, helps a patient get settled back in his room at MetroSouth Medical Center in Blue Island Tuesday, March 5, 2013. Welcome has worked at the hospital for 29 years without missing a day and was recently named Employee of the Year. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 11, 2013 6:17AM
Ray Welcome has lots of nicknames — “Ray the Man,” “Famous Ray” and “The Guy with One Arm” foremost among them.
“I’ve been here four times,” patient James Jones said. “I know Ray the Man. He’s a good man.”
Seems everybody who works at MetroSouth Medical Center and everybody who’s ever been a patient at the Blue Island hospital knows Welcome.
Maybe that’s because Welcome lives up to his last name, or maybe it’s because Welcome is always there.
There hasn’t been a flu, virus or bad mood strong enough to take the 63-year-old patient-transport employee down. He hasn’t missed a day of work in nearly 30 years.
Err, hold on, slight correction. On the day I was supposed to meet with Welcome, he had to beg off. He had been called for jury selection.
“But that doesn’t count against me,” Welcome said. Quite the contrary.
Despite his unique and sparkling work record, Welcome was not chosen to serve on a jury that day. So he was back on the job, pushing wheelchairs and stretchers and making patients feel, well, welcome, the very next day.
“I do my best to help people relax,” he said. “I talk and I listen, but I never repeat anything they tell me.”
He knows the rules to successful small talk.
“Never talk politics and don’t get too personal,” he said. “I try to make people feel as comfortable as possible. Over the years, I’ve come to realize how fortunate I am to be in good health.”
Welcome, a lifelong resident of Evergreen Park, was recently named MetroSouth employee of the year and was awarded a three-day all-expense-paid trip to Nashville, Tenn.
“That’s gonna be great,” he said. “I like country music.”
Welcome’s only experience being on the flip-side of patient transport was when he caught his right arm in a 3-ton forging press at a different job. He lost the arm, and despite the fact that he had to teach himself to be a lefty, he refused to feel sorry for himself.
“My wife has been there for me through the whole thing,” he said. “I like that I can show my kids that people with disabilities can do a lot.”
A lot is an understatement.
The oldest of his four daughters was 4 at the time of the accident and doesn’t remember much about it, Welcome said.
“Now, when my kids look at my old Army pictures, they say I look weird with two arms,” he said.
After graduating from Evergreen Park High School, Welcome was drafted into the Army and spent two years on the island of Okinawa.
He doesn’t dwell on the accident and doesn’t let his handicap affect him in any way. He can change a sheet on a stretcher and guide a wheelchair through the maze of hallways as deftly as his two-armed counterparts.
“I look at it this way: I can have one arm and be miserable or I can have one arm and be happy,” he said.
Welcome spends his free time building custom-made birdhouses and once spent three months building a doll house for his granddaughter, Halie, 9.
“She’s my best friend, and we worked on it together,” he said. “It’s made completely from recycled materials. It just fit in the back of a pickup.”
He has a second grandchild due in June, which he says can’t come fast enough.
His wife, Cheryl, watches an elderly couple on weekends. When they heard about Ray’s award, they gave her a card that read, “You’re our employee of the month.”
Welcome said he could probably retire in a few years but doubts that he will.
“What am I going to do, sit around all day?” he said. “I love this.”
A few weeks ago, he approached a woman who needed transport and she said, “You’re still here, Ray? You took me out of here when my daughter was born. She’s 29 years old now.”
Hard to say whether they remember him for his kindness or his missing arm. Either way, Welcome said, it’s a compliment that they remember him at all.
Welcome said the hospital used to give away savings bonds and extra vacation hours for perfect attendance.
“But that’s not the reason I do it,” he said. “I just love to work. People think I’m crazy when I say that, but it’s easy to come to work when you work with great people.”
Welcome said he got his work ethic from his father, a truck driver who raised 15 children. Welcome was second to the youngest.
“My dad always worked hard, and he always said, ‘when you go to work, go to work, that’s what you get paid for.’”
Welcome also acknowledged that he likely has his dad to thank for his good health.
“Good genes,” he said. “Plus, I think we build up a higher immunity working at a hospital.”
In addition to admissions and discharges, he takes patients to X-ray, surgery and all testing areas. Welcome used to keep track of all the patients he transported but stopped counting years ago after he reached 200,000.
“I do a lot of walking, miles a day,” he said. “And I used to go home and walk three miles a night with my wife.”
When he walks down the halls, nurses, doctors and other staffers give him a shout.
“Hey, Ray,” they call. Or, “How you doin’, Ray?”
Lately, there have been congratulatory salutations, as well.
“When you heading to Nashville, Ray?” they ask.
“He’s an amazing man; we love him,” said Sandra Wilks, executive director of community relations and marketing for MetroSouth and a registered nurse.
When patients see his name tag, they think it reads, “Ray, welcome to MetroSouth.”
“That’s OK,” he said. “If I can put a smile on a face, that makes me feel good. Helping people is my mental health.”