Serving as Texas State Capitol Nurse was like being small-town doctor

And boy does Tim Flynn have stories, some 0f them for print.

Decades ago, Timothy “Tim” Flynn served as director of transportation at a resort in Lago Vista. As part of that job, he often navigated the treacherous, winding stretches of FM 1391.

“Occasionally, I came upon wrecks,” says the retiring Texas Capitol Nurse. “I’d call for help, but it took half an hour, 45 minutes for an ambulance to get there.”

So Flynn trained as an emergency medical technician. That led to jobs with private ambulance companies.

“This was before there was an Austin EMS,” Flynn — tall and fit at 63 — recalls. “Whoever got to the emergency first, got the patient. Whenever we brought somebody to Brack, the nurses would let us help with the ER. I thought that nurses fluffed pillows and emptied bedpans. But I saw them do all sorts of sophisticated procedures in the ER — and basically ran it. That’s when I decided I wanted to be a nurse.”

Flynn earned his nursing degree from the University of Texas and in 1992 started working at the State Capitol. He retired recently, in part to reorder priorities in his life with Rebecca “Becky” Ramirez Flynn, a social and emotional learning specialist, and his wife of 37 years.

“It’s a very bittersweet decision,” he says. “This has been my community for 24 years. Everybody knows I’m a nurse practitioner, which is like small town doctor here. You know everybody and their families and their idiosyncrasies.”

So tell the truth: What is it like tending to the big egos under the big dome?

“Illness is a humbling experience.” he says. “It’s hard for them to put on airs when they get sick.”

He saw it all

In 1965, a young Flynn moved from the St. Louis, Mo., area to Lockhart to be with his mother, Bette Jane Flynn, and stepfather, Arthur Schuelke, who had grown up in that small Texas town.

“A little culture shock there,” he says. “We opened a restaurant on the square, the Lockhart Lion’s Den. My stepfather said: ‘We need to put tables and chairs in the kitchen, because white folks don’t want to sit down with the black folks.’ My mom said: ‘I’ll be damned.’ When the man with the records came for the jukebox, she said: ‘I want all the Motown you got.’ Nobody picketed, but we slowly lost business.”

So the family moved to Austin, where Schuelke opened a “two-bit beer joint” on South Congress Avenue.

“It was dark and cold,” Flynn remembers. “It had a jukebox, too, a pool table and regular customers.”

Meanwhile, Flynn was coming of age as countercultural forces were winning Austin’s hearts and minds. He let his hair grow long and played drums in garage bands.

Later, after receiving his nursing degree, Flynn worked his way up the Seton nursing ladder, then moved over the Texas Department of Human Services, reviewing Medicaid appeals.

“It was a desk job,” Flynn says. “That’s what made me want to come here.”

The previous Capitol Nurses, Vera Taylor and Betty Lindamen, had served long terms. He settled into his offices in the then-new Capitol Extension, built after the big fire of 1983, which killed one person and almost brought down the dome.

“It’s basically a walk-in clinic,” Flynn says. “No appointments, no copayments, no insurance companies. We take a history, give a physical exam, then formulate a diagnosis and treatment plan, maybe write a prescription or two.”

He has been through heart attacks and strokes. He came closest to losing a patient, a car guard, to gastrointestinal bleeding.

“I was called to go check on him,” Flynn recalls. “He was face-down on his desk. Barely had a pulse. I treated him for shock. He spent quit a while in Seton, but he made it. You can always tell it’s close when the paramedics look scared.”

As Capitol Nurse, he looked after staffers and legislators as well as the offices of the governor and lieutenant governor, along with support agencies. In other words, a patient pool of 3,000 people year-round. Also visitors.

“People come from all over the state for legislative sessions,” he says. “We never turned anybody away. The first step is sometimes to call 911. You can’t have a one-person emergency room. I’ll do everything I can — after they call 911.”

On an average day, he examined folks with allergies, infections, anything a primary care provider would ordinarily handle. And, of course, the current flood of advice flowing from the internet is not always helpful.

“What I’ve got here is the walking well,” he admits. “The are well educated, and for the most part younger. Our patients don’t come with a chief complaint. They come in with a diagnosis and a treatment plan they just want us to sign off on. I have to educate them about what they really have. Saying no to power is not easy in this environment.”

Still, a flintiness in Flynn’s tone suggests he usually got his way.

“This is not a negotiation,” he says in as gentle a manner as possible. “If you don’t like it, go to your doctor. Always good to have a second opinion.”

For the first nine years, Flynn felt like a school nurse, working with fantastic physicians, 75-80 volunteer family “physicians of the day,” looking over their shoulders, reading notes, asking questions.

“I learned so much over the years, I wanted to go back to school.” he says. At a reception, former House Speaker Pete Laney said he should do just that. “But it’s not a spare-time spare-change endeavor. Laney said: ‘State agencies can pick up the tab and pay your salary if you promise to come back.’”

He graduated from UT as a nurse practitioner in 2002. But even with his improved medical skills, Flynn still needed a supervising physician. Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Commissioner of Health, said: “I’m in the Capitol all the time. I’ll bop down there and check your charts.”

Flynn wisely did not discuss politics in the clinic.

“I just don’t go there,” he says with a sigh of relief. “I’m not here to judge them, but to serve them. It’s all about their health. But it’s interesting to take care of people you see in the newspaper every day. But I’ve never let politics cloud my judgment.”

He plans to do as little as possible in retirement, although he might lobby a bit on behalf of Texas nurse practitioners.

“I still pinch myself every day when I look up at that pink dome,” Flynn says. “It’s a privilege to work here.”

Real Places Meet-Up at the Townsend

“Have you met Julian Read?”

“You should meet Julian Read.”

“Of course, you’ve talked with Julian Read. Right?”

The guests at a reception for the Real Places Heritage Travel Conference, held at a classy tavern, the Townsend, had the right idea. Read is the grand man of the preservation movement. And, yes, he and I have worked together. Last year, he helped out enormously on “How to modify a classic midcentury modern home.” This year, he has provided vital support on research about famous Austin architects and about the historic Driskill Hotel.

In meetings at the AT&T Center, the conference, put together in part by the Texas Historical Commission, focused on tourism and, especially, the state’s magnificent courthouses.

During the reception, I talked with Howie Richey, who not only gives tours of Austin and the State Capitol but also serves on the Gonzales County Historical Commission, so we talked about ancient ranches and the town’s Spanish-style square there.

Alicia Downard, Angela Reed, Rowena Dasch and Lareatha Clay started to fill in the blanks about the Friends of the Texas Historical Commission, the small nonprofit that does what the governmental body, with its always limited resources, can’t do.

Also chatted with various guests about the efficacy of clubs such as the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, Daughters of the American Revolution and the Colonial Dames of America operating historical sites. All were pioneers in the field and deserve rich praise for their work. Nowadays, however, some of these genealogical clubs do a better job than others.

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