When Betty Sue Conway leaves Payson Regional Medical Center in May to retire to Greenback Valley Ranch she will be taking a lot of history with her.
Conway came to the Rim Country from Arkansas at the age of 2 when her father, John Fletcher, was given a job at one of the old sawmills off the Control Road. So, she has seen quite a bit of the area’s modern history.
She celebrates her 19th anniversary as director of patient financial services on March 19, and so she has also seen quite a bit of the modern history of PRMC.
Conway has had the vantage point to view the area’s growth and development from quite a few different occupations as well. Being a rancher’s wife — her husband is Eddie Conway, whose family has owned and operated Greenback Valley Ranch since 1872 — her work at home was never done, but there were also times when it was necessary for her bring in another paycheck.
“I’ve done a little of everything. I worked at Payson Care Center for a couple of years before coming here (PRMC). I worked in heavy equipment construction as a traffic control supervisor, a flagger, an office manager and equipment procurer. I taught school at Punkin Center School. I had the fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade classes in one room. I was an office clerk for the Forest Service Tonto Basin Ranger District. I also worked at the seismological observatory, but that was before I was married.”
She was in the last Payson schools class to go through all 12 years — her first through senior years — in the Rock Building at what is now Julia Randall Elementary School.
Julia Randall, the longtime area teacher for whom the school is named, was Conway’s teacher for both the first- and second-grades. There were only 15 students in her graduating class.
“Some of them are still in town. We see each other,” she said.
Conway graduated in 1962 and married Eddie Conway on Dec. 11, 1965.
“We’d met the year before, but since he was rodeoing — he was a professional bull rider — he had no intention of quitting and I had no intention of changing anything either.”
Then family obligations came into play. Eddie’s father, E.C. Conway told him he needed to come home and help run the ranch or they were going to have to sell it. So, Eddie left the professional rodeo circuit and came back to the Rim Country. He and Betty Sue started dating “And the rest is history, I guess,” she said.
The winter had turned pretty bad the December the couple was married.
The creek was up so high that E.C. could not get out to come to the wedding — his wife was living in Payson, so their younger children could attend school. When Betty Sue and Eddie returned from their honeymoon, the creek was still up, so it wasn’t until around Christmas they could go in the back way, around Roosevelt Lake, to get to the ranch.
Those tricky crossings played a part in Conway finally getting a second residence in Payson. Often she had to stay with her mother because the creek was up and she couldn’t get home, sometimes she would have to get a ride in a boat to get into town to go to work.
Eventually, she rented her mother’s house from her brother, and then later, she and Eddie bought a home in Payson.
When she retires later this year, they will either rent the house out or put it on the market and she will again make her full-time residence at Greenback Valley Ranch.
Over the years Conway has seen more than a few changes in the Rim Country. As a child, when her family had to go to the Valley to get groceries it was a two-day ordeal or a very hard one-day trip.
“We’d go down, spend the night with relatives, get up and get groceries and then come back. If they were going to do it in one day, they wouldn’t take us. There just wouldn’t be time to deal with kids.”
Conway said her brother was born in Cottonwood because it was the nearest hospital, and they made the trip by way of Fossil Creek.
“Now it takes only about 45 minutes to get to the Valley. All of a sudden Phoenix was close enough, not a horrendous drive.
“Actually, we very rarely went to Phoenix, we went to Mesa because it was closer.”
The biggest changes she has seen at the hospital have been the technology that has been brought in, the improvement of the services and the increase in the number of services offered.
“When I started, our average daily census was four,” she said.
Conway came on board at the hospital during one of its major turnovers in administration.
“I was hired by a management group at a time when about half the staff had been terminated and lots of things were being juggled.”
She said going from a nonprofit to a for-profit hospital was a big change too.
“I thank God for when CHS came in here. Being on the business office side, I knew we were not getting any money before.”
Conway said she has been blessed with a really great staff. There are about 25 people in her department and they are all absolutely top-notch, she said.
“They are a great team and work extremely well together. Everyone pitches in and does whatever needs to be done. I have a great amount of respect for them and my CFO Pete Finelli. He is just tremendous.”