ATLANTA — DeAlphia “Dee” Hiers Strickland of Jackson was presented the Edna Earle Teal Award at Mercer University’s 2021 Nursing Alumni Day on Oct. 15. She was also inducted into Mercer’s Georgia Baptist College of Nursing Hall of Honor.
Strickland was born the daughter of a sharecropper and grew up poor in Pelham in south Georgia. She had to borrow money to attend the Georgia Baptist Hospital School of Nursing (GBHSN) in Atlanta, but she did what she had to do because she felt she was called by God to become a nurse. She was picking cotton in Pelham the day before she left for school on a Trailways bus. That was the first time she had ever left Pelham other than a senior trip in high school.
After graduating from GBHSN in 1961, Strickland worked as a staff nurse in Labor and Delivery at Georgia Baptist. She moved on to become a private scrub nurse for Dr. John R. Lewis and later began working in the operating room, which was her true passion.
She spent several years working in large and small surgery suites and eventually climbed the ranks of the hospital chain, becoming Director of Nurses of two hospitals. She was happiest, however, serving as the Director of Surgery or at the operating table with a hands-on approach.
During the latter part of her career, she served as a hospice nurse.
“I started in labor and delivery and ended in hospice,” Strickland said. “So I have experienced nursing at both ends of life.”
She continued to work part time as a hospice nurse until the age of 80 and finally retired for good on Dec. 31, 2020.
One of her work colleagues, Kim Whitaker, began working with Strickland about eight years ago, providing in-home hospice care. She said that Strickland “took me under her wing.” She suggested that they take calls together while Whitaker was learning the job. Whitaker said Strickland has an amazing work ethic.
“She was always early and would often skip her lunch break to spend additional time with her patients,” Whitaker said. “The patients and their families all loved Dee. She cared a great deal for them, too, and would sometimes use her own funds to purchase much needed clothing and food for her patients.”
Strickland was a tough nurse, but also had great empathy for the families she looked after. Whitaker said that her compassion for her patients and families was “over and beyond.” It was not unusual for her to be strong while caring for the patient, but then shed tears while traveling to her next home visit. She would sometimes offer to pray with a family in crisis. When asked where she found the courage and strength to do this, Strickland said that God gave her the words.
In 2005 Strickland published a collection of poems called “Love Speaks.” Dr. Vernon Hendrix, one of the founding physicians of Northside Hospital, said this about her poetry. “As I begin to read through the pages you have written, I see smiles; I sense tears; I detect happiness; I feel … tragedy.”
Strickland did, in fact, experience tragedy. She married a few days after graduating from college. A year later she gave birth to the most beautiful baby she had ever seen. Soon, the marriage ended; and then, God took her son, Reuben Ellis Jenkins, III.
Several years later, she married again to Clifford J. Strickland. The couple chose to adopt a little boy, provide him with a home, and raise him as their own son. That young man, John Strickland, is currently attending Gordon College and studying nursing. His dream is to eventually open a hospice care facility of his own.
Strickland is a long-time member of Stark United Methodist Church in Jackson. The Rev. Skip Mitchell speaks of her as a vital member of the congregation where she will often provide support for families in need and recruit new members to attend. In fact, she invited her work colleague, Kim Whitaker to attend with her. Whitaker said she was touched by Strickland’s faith and willingness to share her own life and testimony.
Strickland now spends much of her time working in her garden. The garden is a considerable project because she has well over 10,000 azaleas and will sometimes give away ones she has propagated. She also loves animals, often rescuing dogs from the animal shelter and providing a home for abandoned cats.
Edna Earle Teal Award
Edna Earle Teal, a former superintendent of nurses at Georgia Baptist School of Nursing, was appointed by the Southern Baptist Mission Board as the first nurse-missionary to China in 1910. This award, given in her name, recognizes the graduate who has distinguished him or herself in service to God and humanity.
Strickland’s nomination letter for the award states:
“The Edna Earle Teale Award recognizes a graduate who is ‘distinguished in service to God and humanity.’ It is evident that DeAlphia Hiers Strickland embodies the spirit of this award. She started from meager beginnings and worked tirelessly to become a nurse in order to serve humanity. As a nurse, she exhibited true compassion and love for those under her care. It was not merely a job for Strickland, it was a calling from God. Her willingness to reach beyond what was expected and provide what was truly needed shows how she strived to serve that calling. In addition, the way she has lived her life outside of nursing demonstrates that she never stops working to serve God and humanity.”
Hall of Honor
Strickland was also inducted into Mercer’s Georgia Baptist College of Nursing Hall of Honor, which was established in 2002 during the Centennial Celebration to honor the excellence displayed by so many alumni from Georgia Baptist School of Nursing and Georgia Baptist College of Nursing.
Each inductee into the Hall of Honor receives the beautiful Flame Award. The prestigious Flame Award represents the brilliant reflections cast by graduates and supporters of the College and profession of nursing as they made incredible contributions to the nursing profession and to the world-at-large.
All Hall of Honor inductees and recipients of the Distinguished Alumna Award, the Edna Earle Teal Award, and the Young Alumna/Alumnus Award have their names on special plaques in the literal Hall of Honor in the College of Nursing building.