Four days a week, Don Leighton is the voice on the phone and the welcoming face at the front desk of the FPA’s administrative offices in Augusta. He’s also responsible for keeping patients and staff safe while visiting and working here.
Earlier this month, I chatted with Don for a bit and learned some really interesting things about him. Like the fact that for much of his career, he was holding down a full-time job and operating a greenhouse business with his wife.
What did you do for work before you came to the FPA?
Well, I joined the Coast Guard while I was in high school and I did that for eight years. I was on the Hallowell police department for three years and then I spent twenty-four years as a surgical aide at the Togus VA hospital. I also spent some time as a policeman with the VA security service.
I tried retirement, but that didn’t last very long. I went back into security, working for a private firm. That’s when I started working here; that was in 1998. I’ve always taken care of people. This job melds everything I’ve been doing all my life.
What was security like when you started here?
It was really in the baby stages of security for this place. We were in radio contact with the Augusta police and we had a bank of equipment at the front desk. It wasn’t sophisticated like what we’ve got now.
The first security guys who worked here didn’t really understand the job. Now, I train any new security people and I’m very fussy. I look for people who are respectful and helpful – people who are looking ahead for potential situations that could affect patients and staff.
Can you give me an example of what you mean by that?
When someone pulls into the parking lot, my eyes are right on them. I can see when couples are not in sync. If they are in the car arguing, one person doing all the talking while the other stays quiet, I can sense the potential for trouble. If things don’t calm down by the time they come into the building, I’ll have a counselor come out to talk with them in the lobby before they enter the health center. If we’re going to have a situation, it’s easier to deal with out here.
I’m proud of the fact that no one’s ever been hurt here. I can usually spot and deal with a situation before it gets out of hand. I sometimes talk with the men who are here to support their wives and girlfriends. I remind them that they need to focus on the woman and be there for her, for whatever it is she needs.
Do you have to call the police often?
Two years ago I was calling a lot. We had some awful, loudmouth protestors always trying to get on our property. Now the cameras are set up so that they can’t get away with anything.
In early March, the 40 Days protests are starting up again. How are things different during that time?
It’s interesting. The regular protestors back off a lot during the 40 Days. They don’t bring their awful pictures as much. The 40 Days people are not as extreme as the regular people. The problem with the 40 Days protestors is that they crowd around the front gates, sometimes with little children. I’ve had to call the police on them because they were endangering the kids, putting them so close to where the cars drive in.
What’s it like working in a place where most of the employees and patients are women?
I’ve always worked for and with women. At the VA hospital, the nurses were all women and my boss was a woman too. When people ask me if I like working with women, I say, “Yup, I always have worked with women. I’ve always been married to one too.”
What do you enjoy most about your job at the FPA?
I like having contact with all the different people. I’m comfortable with all kinds of people – the board members and other folks who come in for meetings, the patients, the staff. I enjoy chatting with everyone. I’ve always liked this job.
I also enjoy being allowed to do the flower beds. Every year I’ve stuck in more bulbs, bringing dirt from home to plan them in.
Do you have any favorite flowers?
Oh yes, peonies and hydrangeas.
Then the phone rings and Don answers, “Family planning. This is Don. How may I help you?” And the interview is over as he goes back to his work.
~ Nancy Audet