20 Under 40 Feature: Merrill SouthPublished 3:12pm Monday, July 29, 2013
“Make a plan, and make God laugh.” That’s what Merrill South, director of community relations at Vaughan Regional Mecical Center, said as she explained how she never intended to go into health care — a field she now loves — and said she couldn’t see herself doing anything else.
South spent her college career studying English and mass communications at Samford University and even pursued a master’s degree at The University of Alabama in journalism.
“I really wanted to teach community college — English and, or journalism,” South said. “I loved that, and felt like higher [education] was my calling, but obviously it’s not … Like I said, make a plan and make God laugh.”
South said when the position opened up at Vaughan Regional nearly six years ago, she and her husband Steven saw it as an opportunity to come back home to Selma.
“I was never planning to go into health care. Health care chose me, right out of graduate school,” South said. “It was meant to be, and I love it. I can’t see myself doing anything but health care.”
South’s job as director of community relations is multi-faceted, she said, noting it includes marketing, public relations, advertising, volunteer services and helping to bring quality physicians into the community.
“I’m a cheerleader for the hospital; I’m a cheerleader for health care in our community,” South said. “I see myself as a true advocate for that and taking care of our own who live and work here.”
And while South could have chosen to pursue health care in any other city or market, she said she always knew she wanted to come back to Selma.
“When Selma gets in your blood, it’s in you and I just couldn’t’ stand to be too far away,” she said. “I choose to do [this job] in Selma because Selma’s home. I was born and raised here; my husband was born and raised here. Both sets of our parents are still married and are living here, making their homes here, so I guess we’re a little bit of an enigma. I guess that doesn’t happen very often.”
And now that she’s back in Selma, she said this is where she and her husband plan to stay.
“We’ve often said that seeing Selma through adult eyes is different than seeing it through children’s eyes. It has no blemishes at all through children’s eyes, to me, and as an adult it’s a little easier to see it’s shortcomings. But it’s also easier to see what it’s strengths are,” South said. “When you’ve been away from [Selma] for, in our case six or seven years, you see what it offers that the big cities don’t — How you can cure a lot of things with a casserole. And phone calls go along way, from, ‘Hey, y’all weren’t in church today, are y’all doing ok?’ That kind of stuff doesn’t happen in big cities.”
South said when it came down to it, coming back to Selma and making a life here, “just felt right.”