Retired man carries on lifetime of service to others

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Thursdays belong to North Mississippi Medical Center.
For more than 24 years the hospital has been Palmer Foster’s volunteer commitment, where you’ll find him doing whatever is asked of him.
Many of those days Foster, 87, has simply spent time talking with hospital patients who didn’t have anyone to visit them.
“I remember an 83-year-old man from Sulligent, Ala., that had been in the hospital several months and only three of his people had come to visit,” Foster said. “He wanted to pay me to just sit and talk.”
To Foster, however, the payoff for his service is simply the help he might give to someone.
“That’s my therapy,” he said with a smile. “Looking into the faces of people you meet at the hospital, you really learn a lot from them, get strength from them.”
Perhaps the compassion Foster shares in his service at NMMC was strengthened through his nine years as caretaker for his wife of 64 years – Ethell Foster – who suffered from Alzheimer’s before she died in December 2009.
“She was the best partner one could have in life, and she went with me everywhere,” he said. “She never got down and never suffered.”
Though Foster lives an active life with his volunteer service and at his Spring Hill Baptist Church, their six children keep close contact. Emmett and Clarence Foster, Susan Stevenson and Martha Ann Gorman live in Tupelo, while Melvin Foster lives in New York and Jessie M. Carpenter in Kansas City, Mo.
“I had hip replacement in March and stayed with my daughter for 43 nights,” Foster said. “She let me go back to the hospital volunteering after three weeks, but I don’t do much walking there now. Mostly I’m at the patient information desk.”
In retirement Foster continues a lifetime of service, a pattern he set throughout his work life as the first African-American Boy Scout professional in Mississippi.
After graduating from Rust College, the World War II Army veteran had his heart set on a career as a dentist. However, he was one of many veterans seeking that opportunity and the historical black college he wanted to attend – Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. – put his name on a waiting list.
The Ripley native went to work teaching science in Columbus while also serving as a Scout leader.
“I got a call that asked how would you like to go into professional Scouting,” Foster said. “I was married and my wife was expecting, so I told him I had to make a living. The salary he offered was twice as much as I was making.”
After interviewing with recruiters from the regional office in Memphis, he was hired by the Yocona Area Council, serving 12 counties for still-segregated troops.
“Every single day I went to work I enjoyed what I was doing,” Foster said. “My three sons grew up in Sounting and all were Eagle Scouts.”
Countless numbers of African-American Boy Scouts through several generations in Alcorn, Prentiss, Tishomingo, Benton, Tippah, Itawamba, Lee, Marshall, Lafayette, Pontotoc, Union and Yalobusha counties were mentored by Foster and the dedicated volunteer troop leaders he recruited over three decades.
“No day was the same,” he reminisced. “Not a lot of those people are still left, but I keep in touch with some.”
Foster also became a founding board member of the community service agency LIFT, Inc., serving as board president for many years, but moving on when he felt the time was right.
“It’s necessary to hand anything over to carry it higher,” he said. “In a certain length of time I can contribute all I have to offer, then it’s time to let others take it.”
With his grounding in a need to serve, however, Foster is sure to be helping anywhere and in whatever ways he can.
“God, my wife and the community made me what I am today, and I appreciate all of them,” he said.
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@journalinc.com.