Hospitals, universities and other institutions often recognize the contributions of past presidents, distinguished faculty members, significant donors and other prominent figures by naming buildings, departments, rooms and other facilities in their honor.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center is no exception, but it also has an exception: the Sam Hickerson Valet Parking Stand, named in honor of Sam Hickerson, valet parking manager and unofficial good-will ambassador.
“It was over the top. I was overwhelmed,” Hickerson said of the Board of Trustees meeting at which his service to the medical center was formally recognized with a plaque, a proclamation and a hearty round of applause. “For one of the few times in my life, I had no words.”
The new valet parking stand, located at the hospital’s main entrance, was erected this winter to replace a smaller booth. A plaque on its exterior reads: “In honor of Sam Hickerson, who for nearly 30 years has been the warm smile and caring heart of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.”
“Nobody could be more deserving of this recognition,” said Rachna Atwal, director of hospitality services at Wake Forest Baptist. “Sam is the personification of good will, integrity and commitment. Observing him at work renews my faith in humanity and the promise of care that we make to our patients and visitors. He is a man on a unique mission – that of aggressively seeking to assist those in need.”
Sam Powell Lewis Hickerson, 68, is a Winston-Salem native who played on football, basketball, baseball and track teams in high school before dropping out in 1962. He worked at a variety of jobs in the following years, earned his GED in 1980 and, after being referred by a friend, was hired as a security guard at Wake Forest Baptist in March 1982.
“And I fell in love with the place,” he said.
Hickerson transferred from security when valet parking was established at the medical center in the mid-1980s and he’s been involved with it ever since. He now manages a staff of 30 based at five locations around the Wake Forest Baptist campus.
“All my life I’ve been blessed with the ability to engage people, and this has been a perfect job for that,” Hickerson said. “Most of the people who come here are under stress for one reason or another, and it’s wonderful to be in a position to help them, just because they’re people.
“And the people I’ve worked for and with have always been fantastic in allowing me to do what I do the way I do it.”
But there’s much more to Hickerson than parking cars, providing assistance and being warm and welcoming. Among other things, he has been pastor of New Light Baptist Church in Winston-Salem since 1984, he earned a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy from Shaw University in 2000, he has played Santa Claus for the medical center’s Angel Tree holiday charity drive for more than 20 years and he and his wife, Sylvia, have six adult children, all of whom reside in the Winston-Salem area, and eight grandchildren. He’s also earned acclaim for his barbecue. (“I’m not one to boast,” he said, “but I do know how to cook.”)
Still, it is the job at Wake Forest Baptist that has earned Hickerson his greatest notoriety and his greatest satisfaction.
“I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years,” he said, “but this has been the most fulfilling experience.”
One that likely will continue for a while. Ask Sam Hickerson about retirement and you’ll get a quick response: “Never.”
“I still look forward to coming to work every day and doing what I do,” he said. “How many people can say that?”