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Why do they call it that? Edward White Hospital bears astronaut hero's name

6:19 AM, Jul 11, 2012   |    comments
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A St. Pete hospital bears his name, but Edward White wasn't a doctor or a healer -- he was a hero.

Why do they call it Edward White Hospital?

Judy Brown knows her hospital. And everyone knows her. She started working at this St. Petersburg hospital -- in this same job -- in 1978.

The place had only been built two years before!

"It's been wonderful over the years. I've been blessed that I think I've had -- I think it's either seven or eight CEO's as my boss. It really is an Ed White family," said Brown, the hospital's senior administrative assistant.

A group of St. Petersburg doctors partnered up with a company to create the new hospital. But, at first, it had no name.

"Some of the physicians in the limited partnership happened to be friends and neighbors of General White and his wife," Brown said. 

General Edward White and his wife Mary retired to St. Petersburg from out west. These folks were humble, but in reality, they were a big deal.

Their oldest son -- Ed White II -- had chosen quite a career.

In June 1965, he rocketed into orbit aboard the mission Gemini 4.

Way up there, he opened the hatch and drifted out through the doorway into space. Connected to his ship only by hoses and a safety line, White became the first American to spacewalk -- floating free 200 miles above the earth.

"I feel like a million dollars!" he said, as the planet's surface slid by beneath him at a speed of five miles a second.

After 36 minutes, the astronaut floated back into his spacecraft and radioed down to Houston, "This is the saddest moment of my life."

Unfortunately, sadder moments were still ahead.

Months later, Ed White was part of a three-person crew for another milestone mission: the first manned flight of the new Apollo spaceship.

On January 27th, 1967, the men climbed into the ship for a routine test -- a practice countdown.

Midway through the test, a fire broke out in the capsule.

As it raged, White tried to open the hatch to get them out.

But escape was impossible.

Moments later, the crew of the Apollo 1 mission was dead.

It was NASA's first great tragedy.

White's parents were still coping with the loss ten years later in St. Pete. The doctors building this new hospital saw that pain.

"They just became very good friends of them," Brown said.

"They started bringing them in to meetings with the other limited partners. And that's how they sort of decided that they would like to name the hospital Edward H. White II Memorial Hospital."

A picture of Ed White floating in his spacesuit welcomes everyone who walks in the front door of the hospital. But it's when you get inside that you get the real connections to Ed White and his space story.

Read the Gemini Journal newsletter, dine at the Zero Gravity Bistro, and see scenes of space all over the place. They even have a set of White's blue astronaut coveralls on display.

However, that's not the only historic artifact at the hospital.

SItting on Judy Brown's desk is "the original stapler from when I was hired in November of 1978," she said proudly. "I'm hanging onto the stapler! You can't get this kind of stapler anymore."

And Brown says there's one other thing still lingering in these halls from those early days. It's the influence from the family of astronaut and hero Edward White II.

"That, I think, is what started the family atmosphere. The hospital was built on the premise of a smaller facility and the family atmosphere has never changed," Brown said.

Why do they call it that? Now you know.

We feature new "Why do they call it that?" stories each Wednesday on 10 News starting at 5 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Check out previous editions of the Emmy-nominated series at our "Why do they call it that?" website: wtsp.com/callitthat.

Grayson Kamm, 10 News

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