April 20, 2017

Valet Hughes makes sure every visit starts with a smile

When Jerry Hughes, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) valet attendant, takes the car keys of Vanderbilt patients, he leaves a piece of his kind spirit with them as they venture into the hospital to face their day.

Paking valet Jerry Hughes always tries to put smiles on the faces of the patients, families and visitors he interacts with every day. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Editor’s note —
This is the seventh and final in a series of profiles on some of Vanderbilt’s most dedicated employees to promote this week’s Celebrate — The Difference YOU Make Every Day.

When Jerry Hughes, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) valet attendant, takes the car keys of Vanderbilt patients, he leaves a piece of his kind spirit with them as they venture into the hospital to face their day.

Hughes, 62, is one of 14 valet attendants who works at the main entrance of VUMC and has been recognized for showing kindness and compassion to each patient and family he encounters.

“I’ve had family members who have had long-term illnesses and when I see the patients and all that they are going through, it brings me joy to be able to help them, provide comfort and take a little pressure off them,” Hughes said. “Many people drive into the city for treatments and surgeries and they are scared. It’s a big place with a lot of unknowns. We try to make it friendly and welcoming when they come to Vanderbilt. I try to smile at everybody and greet them that way. Many have said, ‘It’s so nice to see a smiling face.’”

Hughes has been offering his warm greeting since 2007, when valet attendants at VUMC were managed by Central Parking.

But being a valet was not Hughes’ original career path.

The Bowling Green, Ohio, native spent most of his life in Ashtabula, east of Cleveland. He was a charter boat captain for 10 years and took people out sport fishing on Lake Ontario. He also worked in a laboratory for 10 years and color matched for the automotive industry. His son, Scott, works as an electrician and his daughter, Jennifer, is a schoolteacher, both in Northeast Ohio. He has five grandchildren.

Hughes ventured to Nashville to connect with family (he has a brother who lives here and a nephew who graduated from Vanderbilt University) and find a new career path. Nashville also opened the door for his art career.

“I mainly focused on old world Santa Clauses sculpted on driftwood and pinecones, whimsical pieces like Humpty Dumpties, and rabbits,” Hughes said. “With the economy the way it was, I was selling to mom and pop stores, and I had to venture out to bring in more money.”

After staying on the Nashville art scene for several years, the economy led Hughes to seek employment elsewhere.

“I had never worked as a valet, and didn’t think I would in my wildest dreams,” Hughes said. “When I first started here, it was very busy for a valet service. I liked the interactions with people and helping them get to their appointments.”

Hughes said being recognized for his hard work is humbling.

“I’m not one to normally accept acknowledgement,” Hughes said. “I’m almost a little bashful. Many of the valets do the same thing every day. We are at the main entrance and have a lot of interaction with our patients coming to the door. Many of the valets greet people with the same level of kindness and do a great job. I enjoy being a part of a caring team.”

Last year alone, parking valet Jerry Hughes parked and moved 12,825 vehicles. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Aside from his kindness, Hughes is noted for his diligence and work ethic. In 2016, He parked and moved 12,825 vehicles by himself and handled tens of thousands of keys without incident.

“Jerry is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. His role in valet parking goes well beyond parking cars in that his smile and warm welcome fulfill our promise to serve patients with genuine kindness and respect,” said Bill Newsome, valet manager at VUMC. “It doesn’t take long for anyone who meets him to notice his genuine compassion to serve others. Jerry makes everyone around him feel appreciated and treats them with utmost kindness and respect.”

Newsome said Hughes’ hard work is recognized by both peers and patients.

“Jerry is often seen interacting with a patient in need or supporting new-hires during the department’s on-boarding process,” Newsome said. “Jerry is an exemplary ambassador for VUMC’s front door.”

Bobby Booker, valet supervisor, describes Hughes as a team player. “Jerry is very helpful. He makes everyone feel comfortable and goes above and beyond daily. When he’s not parking a car, he’s always looking for someone he can assist. He is a compassionate individual. I’m proud to have him working on my team.”