Some went to hear the music, others to watch the fireworks. But for most of the 800 county residents at Loudoun Memorial Hospital's 75th birthday party, the event was a sentimental journey. They were going back to their beginnings and those of their children and their children's children.
The party, which had been announced in local papers and radio stations all week, was to begin at 8 p.m. Friday, but guests started arriving long before that, carrying blankets and lawn chairs and babies born at Loudoun just weeks before. There were senior citizens in wheelchairs watching the crowd gather, listening to the band warm up and smiling, perhaps remembering their own beginnings.
Celebrating his ties to the hospital, Tommy Cooper brought his son, 9-year-old Jason, to the party. Father and son had been born at Loudoun Memorial, and Cooper's father is a patient at the hospital's 100-bed long-term care unit, he said.
Mary Donahue, who recently resigned from her 23-year position as secretary at the hospital, danced to the music of the Cross Country band with her granddaughters, Ann, 7, and Mary Megan, 4, both born at the hospital.
Linda Beavers, a practical nurse in the long-term care unit, and her husband Allen, a hospital maintenance worker, proudly carried son David, born a month ago at Loudoun Memorial, through the jostling crowd.
Nearly half the people at the party, which was held on a hospital parking lot, waited patiently in an increasingly long line to sign a register to record that they or their children had been born there. Long after it was too dark to see, volunteer Brian Bell held a flashlight so that people could sign their names and their birth dates in the leather-bound, cream-colored book. Assigned to crowd control, Leesburg police Officer Mark Hardy hurried to sign the book as soon as he heard about it, a few minutes too late.
"I guess they were tired," Hardy said, disappointed. "I couldn't persuade them to get the book out again even by showing them my gun and my badge."
He praised the orderly crowd, though, and had kind words about the celebration that brought it together. "I saw a lot of families here, and everyone's having a good time. This is really nice."
Bell agreed. "This is just like a big family get-together. It's like a community of people who all know each other. It gives you a good feeling to see it."
Dr. Roy Brown, one of Loudoun Memorial's first surgeons, who retired in 1979, was born at the facility 66 years ago. As the oldest "baby" to sign the register, he was recognized by hospital President Kent Stevens, who presented Brown with a pewter cup edged with a picture of the first hospital, a small two-story brick building on Loudoun Street.
Also honored was former Leesburg town manager Robert Humphrey, born at Loudoun Memorial 65 years ago. Hefting his new cup, he said, "I'm going home to fill this with bourbon -- and just a little bit of water. How do you think I got to be 65 years old?"
Judy Carroll, whose three children were born at the hospital, went despite a broken leg. "They took care of my leg here, and they did a wonderful job," Carroll said, "so I brought it to their party."
His little T-shirt read "I Got My First Hug at LMH," but 2-week-old Patrick Nolen, youngest partygoer, slept through the festivities. At 94, long-term care patient Hildegarde Schwandner was the oldest in attendance. "This is a lovely party," she said. "I've never seen anything like this. I hope they let me stay up for the whole thing."