Mary Lindsey is both heartwarming and fierce, and she took both approaches as a retired social worker.
During her career, Lindsey, 80, has helped and comforted abused children and hospital patients, and she has brought about change in the way rape victims are treated.
Early on, she planned to become a nurse, following in the footsteps of her maternal grandmother, who ran the infirmary at Arkansas Polytechnic College, now Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. However, observing the emergency procedures made her feel uncomfortable.
She majored in psychology and sociology instead and finished college in 3½ years, though she insists that wasn’t a sign of academic prowess.
“It had to do with my family’s poverty and I had to finish my university studies as quickly as possible,” she says.
Her father was a skilled welder who read science fiction to her, including “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” by Jules Verne, at bedtime. She and her older brother played outside on summer evenings and spent weekends with cousins on their grandparents’ farm.
Friends and neighbors often gathered at the farm for barbecues, featuring the family’s own barbecue recipe.
“I was raised playing in a barn with lots of cats. There were cows, horses, chickens…it was the best of all possible worlds, being raised in a college town but spending all that time on the farm,” she said. .
Her psychology professor at Arkansas Tech, aware that opportunities for those with only an undergraduate degree were limited, encouraged her to become a social work intern with the Department of Child Protection.
The work was sometimes overwhelming.
“I quickly took in about 150 foster children, and I had never been around anyone who had been abused or sexually assaulted. It all came as a shock to me,” she says.
She worked for a time with the Arkansas Division of Employment Security, then as an assistant director of personnel at M. M. Cohn, before completing her master’s degree in social work at the School of Social Work in Arkansas. University of Arkansas in 1974.
At the Saint-Vincent infirmary, she worked on the medical surgery floors and in the intensive care unit, and she eventually developed the role of on-call social worker in the emergency room.
She noted that many doctors at the hospital were unsure of the role social workers could play.
A chance encounter with the chairman of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in 1977 kick-started his 33-year tenure there.
“He said to me, ‘Do you want to continue like this? Or do you want to come and train doctors in the use of social workers?’ Wasn’t that cool?” she says.
After a colleague’s 19-year-old daughter was abducted from their home by a serial rapist, Lindsey accompanied the teenager to the emergency room.
When the rapist was arrested, she says, “I helped the district attorney choose a jury and then sat with her through that process, until she walked into the room. audience and testifies.”
Lindsey was then appointed by the Governor at the time. Bill Clinton at the Governor’s Rape Task Force.
Rape victims throughout Arkansas were required to report to UAMS for examination and evidence collection at that time. Lindsey, through the task force, helped develop a training program for family physicians so they could examine these survivors closer to home. This effort earned her the Uppity Women’s Award from the Arkansas Women’s Political Caucus in 1985.
For 17 years, she was director of the division of continuing medical education in the department of family and community medicine at UAMS. She expanded the continuing medical education program from a half-day program to a 3 ½ day program.
After retiring in 2008, Lindsey worked with her husband, Bob Burns, professor emeritus in the Department of Neurobiology and Developmental Sciences at UAMS and director of the UAMS Partners in Health Sciences program, which provides training in the sciences of health from pre-kindergarten to grade 12. .
She and Burns like to travel when they can.
Exploring the world was an early dream for Lindsey, who informed her mother that she planned to be in Rome when she was 25. She was 26 when she got a Eurail pass and toured Europe with a friend.
She leads a travel class through the nonprofit organization LifeQuest, coordinating virtual tours of Trier, Germany; Sitka, Alaska; Amsterdam and other localities.
She and Burns enjoy gardening, fishing, and spending time at their vacation home near the Spring River. She found solace outdoors for years.
“There aren’t many people around and it’s quiet and peaceful,” she says. “I can just feel the tension flowing from my back during these times.”
Reflecting on her life of caring for others, Lindsey wonders if healthcare workers today are finding outlets for the stresses they have endured during the pandemic.
“They deal with a lot of deaths, coming at them as a team. There is so little or no recovery time for them,” she says. “My cases were spread out and I had colleagues I could discuss and deal with and we had some time to recover. That’s not the case with what’s happening now.”
If you know of an interesting story about an Arkansan 70 or older, please call (501) 425-7228 or email: