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Living legacy

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Edward John Noble visited Gouverneur on Oct. 7, 1949, to celebrate laying the cornerstone of the village’s new hospital.

He reminded the crowd who knew him that “I‘ve come home, and it is a proud day for me. It was as a boy that I used to pick berries for one cent a quart at the Sayer place only a stone’s throw from here.”

Mr. Noble had every reason to be proud that fall day as the cylindrical stainless steel cornerstone was embedded in the concrete of the northeast corner of the administrative wing of the new hospital, which his generosity made possible. He envisioned a cohesive hospital system to be known as North Country Hospitals Inc.

He was the principal financial backer of hospitals in Canton and Alexandria Bay in addition to Gouverneur. He committed more than $1 million shortly after World War II, and he encouraged the north country community to improve medical care by contributing to the three institutions.

It was a long way from a strawberry field to owner of the Lifesaver brand of candy and what is today the ABC television network. Mr. Noble was a fantastic salesmen who had an eye for what consumers wanted and was always bold enough to ask for the order. His intensity and energy brought him and the north country great rewards.

Mr. Noble was a willing supporter of causes and needs here. He saved Boldt Castle from destruction.

He also was chairman of the board of trustees of St. Lawrence University for 13 years, guiding the university’s strong growth in the 1950s. The hospital system he envisioned was born of his concern for helping the north country achieve better medical care.

In the early part of the last century, medical care was hard to come by. Doctors struggled from makeshift facilities. It was impossible to recruit doctors to meet the needs of the community.

That legacy, created from the singular generosity of a native son who created Lifesavers but never forgot his roots, is in turmoil. Hospitals carrying Mr. Noble’s name began to run into hard times beginning in 1974 when Canton’s Edward John Noble Hospital merged with the Potsdam Hospital. In Alexandria Bay, the medical center when begun as the Edward John Noble Hospital has become the River Hospital as it struggles to maintain a market niche in a very challenging climate.

Edward John Noble Hospital of Gouverneur will re-emerge as part of the St. Lawrence Health System, which includes Canton Potsdam Hospital. Mr. Noble’s vision to create a north country hospital system is just as alive today as it was when he began his quest nearly 70 years ago.

Two of the institutions he created are joining together in a quest to sustain momentum to meet the challenges of health care delivery, which are exacerbated in rural New York. Costs today are enormous, and the role of government is substantial if not overburdening.

While Mr. Noble’s name disappears from the hospital buildings, the north country is confident that his legendary talent to deliver goods and services to markets that needed and coveted those products will extend to the leadership of the new St. Lawrence Health System as it finds cost-effective ways to assure their neighbors that good health care is nearby.

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