When Sharon Lawler began her healthcare career at age 18 in 1965, a new national program called Medicare had just started. It required more paperwork — a lot more.

Lawler was hired by the hospital — then located at Barnard’s Mill — to do Medicare billing and take down information for patient admissions.

“It was all done by hand,” Lawler recalled. “Everything was paper.”

Last week she stood in the medical records storage room at Glen Rose Medical Center surrounded by shelves of patient records. She’s saying goodbye to all that this week when she retires after 45 years with the hospital and before another milestone takes place, when the records will be scanned and converted to a digital format.

A retirement celebration will be held in her honor Thursday (tomorrow) at the medical center’s lobby from 4 to 6 p.m. The public is invited.

“It’s blessed me to be able to be here this long and given me the opportunity to raise my children here,” Lawler, 63, said. She plans to spend more time with her grandchildren and just take it easy for a while.

“I'm tired,” she said with a laugh.

But she won't be gone long. Lawler will be back in May to work part-time at the medical center and to coordinate a volunteer program similar to the “pink ladies” at other hospitals.

Lawler was born in Pecos and grew up in Godley. Her family moved to Glen Rose and she spent her senior year at Glen Rose High School and graduated from there.

After high school she started looking for a job. Two women who worked for Dr. Robert English and Dr. Roger Marks — Lella Mimms and Lauree Brawley — mentioned to her that the hospital for looking for someone to hire because of Medicare.

Dr. Marks paid for Lawler to take a correspondence course to get her credentials to become a registered tech for records.

The hospital only had 14 or 15 beds, but it delivered babies until 1968 and did surgeries such as gall bladder removal and emergency appendectomies. It moved to its current location on U.S. Highway 67 in 1971 and over the years expanded and added on buildings.

Lawler’s job expanded, too. As the assistant administrator of operations, Lawler has handled the medical staff credentialing, worked with medical records, emergency room doctor scheduling and performed other administrative duties.

She will be succeeded by Monica Campbell, whose family has lived in Glen Rose for years.

The biggest changes Lawler has seen over the past four-and-a-half decades have been the government programs in health care and the shift to technology, she said. She remembers the days when X-rays were on film and hospitals didn’t have faxes, let alone computers. GRMC is in the midst of converting to a new IT system.

Lawler praised the hospital management, especially Gary Marks, chief executive officer, Mo Sheldon, the chief operating officer who currently is in charge of the nursing home after the previous administrator left, and members of the county Hospital Authority Board, where she has represented the hospital.

Lawler said she’ll miss all the people she worked with the most after she retires.

“I’m kind of a people person,” she said. “I’m happy to be retiring, but I’ll miss it too because of my longevity here. This place is very personal for me.”