Inside NYP: Frankie Gray
One of the hospital's longest-serving employees, now 81, reflects on his 60-year career.
I was 21 when I first came to NewYork-Presbyterian. I’m from Swan Quarter, North Carolina, but my mother came to New York to have a better life. She was a single parent, so she had to take care of my two sisters and myself. She came to the hospital for a sickness, back in the ’40s, and she used to talk about how great it was — the patients and employees and everything like that. I also had a cousin who worked here many years ago in the kitchen.
I worked here during the summer of 1957 when I was going to school. That’s how I met Mitchell Springer. He came here from Panama City, maybe two or three weeks before I came to the hospital. I was going to New York Vocational High School, which was at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue at the time. I was a gym fighter too. I did more training and boxing at the gym, but I fought at Madison Square Garden one time. I fought up in Boston one time. I used to fight at the Veterans Hospital up in the Bronx. I was in the Golden Gloves. I never really won all the way, but I was in the Golden Gloves back in the ’50s. I was studying to be an auto mechanic, but I didn’t go through with it. After school, in ’59, I came back to NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center for good and worked in the kitchen.
Back then, they had hand trucks to deliver food. They used to carry the desserts, meats, and vegetables; gravy, soups, and broth in pots. They had about 24 trucks and everybody pushed the trucks around, and cooks were like, “That’s where we will load the food — straight from the stove to the truck.” And we’d take it back upstairs to the pantries at a certain time and serve the food. Then we’d go back to pick the trucks up and bring them back down to be cleaned.
We used to make old-fashioned desserts, cakes, pies, and different Jell-O that we don’t make anymore. I used to work in the salad room. I’m still making salads but different kinds. Back in the day we used to make sliced tomato salads. We made “Under the Sea” Jell-O salads. Now, salads are different. Since room service started, they came up with one I never knew: Greek. There was one particular Jell-O that really stood out to me and, I think, most everybody. I almost forget how to make it now, but they called it “Angel Delight” Jell-O salad. It was very good. It was made with Jell-O, crushed pineapples, and ground-up nuts sprinkled on the top. It’s a very good salad. It was the best one we made.
I come to work early. Six to two are my regular hours, but I always leave the house early. I come at like 4:30, 5 o’clock. I get up at 3 o’clock in the morning. I get up, start my day, and I ask God to grant me safety. I used to volunteer for ministries and opened up the church on Sunday mornings. We still run the food program at the church and give out food during the week.
It is easy to work here, and it is easy to get along with the other employees and the supervisors. I never had any problem, so I think that is a big step. After 60 years you’ve had no problem with a supervisor or bosses? I appreciate that.
I’m 81 now. I used to ride motorcycles. I like the highways. I don’t like riding in the city. Too many cars. I don’t ride anymore, but every year I renew my insurance.
I’ve seen people come and go. But the most important thing? You come to do what you have to do. We all can’t do the best all the time, but we do the best we can. That’s important. And I think the boss who is supervising you, as long as they see you doing your best and you’re trying, you can make it.
I’m thinking about retiring pretty soon. How soon I just don’t know yet, but I’m thinking about it seriously. But the people have kept me here. It’s the job. There’s good days and bad days. Every day is not the same. You get up and you feel full of joy and happy and everything, and everything is jolly. Then some days you don’t. But I have a job and I love the people I’m around. It keeps me company. When I come to work, I’m around people. I love people.