OPINION: L+M: A surviving New London treasure
I think New London is still mourning the loss of its First Congregational Church, a gaping hole in the downtown streetscape and the city’s skyline and psyche.
The mound of granite rubble on State and Union streets, the result of the sudden and catastrophic collapse of the landmark 1851 church, is heartbreaking.
In consolation, I’ve been focusing lately on appreciating some of the great surviving architecture, landmarks and institutions that make New London such a remarkable small city.
It’s a place, one tenacious New London businessman reminded me, after the church collapse, with style. He gave it a little drawl for emphasis: styyyyle. I would add heart and soul.
And then, while in full New London nostalgia mode, I made an unexpected visit Wednesday to one of those great city institutions that I am very glad to see not only surviving, but thriving.
My husband’s primary care doctor smartly diagnosed some nagging stomach pain as appendicitis, and sent us on for confirmation and treatment to the Emergency Department at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital.
Sebastian Duffy Lawrence, the wealthy and savvy businessman who inherited from his Venetian-born father a whaling business, a fleet of ships and a successful bank, grew the family fortune and left a half million dollars in his own will for the creation of a modern hospital for New London.
L+M opened in 1915, and I would suggest that, based on our successful visit to Lawrence’s hospital, the detail-oriented whaling mogul, known for his micro-managing, would be pleased at how well his community investment has grown and prospered.
I have never seen L+M, in the many decades I’ve been in and out of it, excelling as well as it seems to be now, under the capable direction of the Yale New Haven Health system.
I was impressed with the facilities and infrastructure and the way that Yale has improved and integrated a place that grew so clumsily over the years. It seems now like a much more cohesive and modern facility than it ever has.
L+M still seems to be the quintessential community hospital that Lawrence envisioned, when he declared that a prominent port city like New London needed one.
The Emergency Department staff we watched at work knew by name some of the patients who seemed to be frequent fliers, for problems with alcohol and drugs. The nurses and their assistants treated everyone with care and respect.
It was busy. There were people on beds in the hallways waiting for rooms to open up.
One volunteer who was cleaning up small examining rooms between patients told a nurse that she always does the bed first, before the rest of the room, because it would be the most needed if someone arrives suddenly in an emergency.
Any institution that can muster volunteers to clean rooms in the evening for sick patients is doing something right. God bless those volunteers.
I don’t think we encountered a single staff member during the whole visit who didn’t offer a warm smile, even just passing in the hallway. It’s a healing place.
My husband was not the only patient who turned up that evening with appendicitis. In the end, the hospital assembled a surgical team and performed back-to-back appendectomies, as Wednesday night rolled into Thursday morning.
The surgeon told me he drove in from his home in Haddam. There wasn’t even a faint suggestion of complaint in his voice.
Lawrence spread his generosity across the community. Another prominent gift we might remember him for is the Sailors and Soldiers Monument at the foot of State Street.
He was one of the richest men in Connecticut when he died. Mystic Seaport Museum has the collection of his papers, which document the dozens of ships the family sent around the world from New London.
He was never married and had no children.
I like to think of all of us as his heirs, and a couple of appendectomies later, I’d say it’s a pretty good inheritance.
Alas, the First Congregational Church is gone. But there’s lots to be grateful for in a little city like New London, one with so much styyyyle, and heart and soul.
This is the opinion of David Collins.
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