Armstrong leaves Peterson Board  after nine years

Mark Armstrong, who is finishing his third three-year term on the Peterson Medical Center Board of Directors and rotating off, sits at the same table, overlooking the Guadalupe River, where he decided to take over what is now Lakehouse Restaurant more than three decades ago.

Mark Armstrong says during his three terms of three years each on the Peterson Medical Center Board of Directors, his grandson, Aydan, grew from a kid Armstrong took fishing to a six-foot tall Bastrop High School student. But as of the July meeting, under the board's rules, Armstrong has "timed-out," and must rotate off the board.

He says the Peterson board is actively engaged, participating in running the medical center. There are three main committees; governance, finance, and quality. They involve a lot of processes, from strategic planning to fundraising.

"On the other hand, the board has only one employee," he says. "That's Cory Edmondson, our CEO. He runs the organization. When someone who knows I'm on the board collars me with, 'I was in your hospital, and...' it's not my place to fix problems by going to the staff, but I know who to send them to for answers. We have incredibly competent leadership, including Cory and the managers under him. The general public has no idea of the pool of talent we have in PRMC. They pour their heart and soul into 'Elevating Health,' and have developed a culture of caring and doing things right."

Armstrong says he is currently on the Peterson Executive Committee, and during his tenure has served as chair of the Governance Committee, including several years dealing with nominations finding replacements for others rotating off. He also spent a year as vice-chair of the board, and two years as chair.

He says it's eye-opening how health care works, dealing with government regulations and requirements on one hand, and with the complexities of health insurance on the other.

"To someone who runs a business, the healthcare business model is incomprehensible. People demand that health insurance provide a lot of care that isn't under the real definition of 'insurance.' Meanwhile medical science keeps coming up with more and more treatments that need covering. PRMC provides millions of dollars a year in uncompensated care. But it shouldn't be a political issue, and there isn't a political solution that will save it."

Armstrong says he was born and raised in Dallas, graduating from Hillcrest High School in 1972. "Every move I made after that was to a smaller town, until I tripped, stumbled and fell into Kerrville."

He says in high school he took a distributive education class where he worked in a pet store. Then he noticed that John's Jeans was where all the cool people shopped, so he applied for a position there. He prepared extensively to interview for the job, but the owner, William Lyle, asked him only one question. "At the pet store, do you clean up the dog poop?" When Armstrong said he did, Lyle told him nothing in the jeans store was that difficult, and gave Armstrong the job.

Armstrong says to continue his education, he was in the "class that first unlocked the doors" to attend Richland Community College.

He says his first entry into food service came next. John's Jeans was next door to the Mississippi River Company restaurant, and Armstrong hung out there so much that when they needed an assistant manager, they figured he was there all the time anyway. When they transferred him to Shreveport, La., Armstrong studied at Louisiana State University.

MRC led to a job with Steak & Ale, a company that transferred Armstrong from Shreveport to Baton Rouge, and then enabled him to return to Texas by finagling a transfer to Longview on July 1, 1980.

When he got to Longview, he met Sallie Scantlin, who was waiting tables during her summer off from college. Armstrong says, "She had been going to Texas Tech, but was transferring to Texas A&M. I had five weeks before she left, so I had to work hard and fast. But I pulled it off, and we got engaged. When we married, Dec. 27, 1980, I had to resign from Steak & Ale."

He says, "By 1980, I was fed up with food service, working weekends and evenings, so I found a position at an oil company in the accounting office. It was like being in school. If you were in the middle of something you had to leave when the bell rang at five o'clock. If you didn't have anything to do, you had to twiddle your thumbs until the bell rang at five o'clock. I hated to admit it, but I was a restaurant guy."

So, in 1984, he says he returned to his calling at Catfish King, in Longview. "I got the job I thought I wanted, travelling around, the guy with the briefcase. Then I figured out it wasn't what I wanted. At the end of 1988 we were in a corporate meeting discussing what was the farthest west of all our restaurants, and they asked, 'What are we going to do with Kerrville?' I spoke up and said I'd take it."

He says they took him seriously, and offered him the management. "I said I was interested, then went to my car and pulled out a map and see if I could find Kerrville. I came and visited, so I could look the place over. The president of Catfish King met me, and we ended up sitting across from each other at a table, in the lower level, by the window, and he asked if I really wanted to run the restaurant. I looked out, across the beautiful Guadalupe River, and said yes."

Armstrong says they ran the restaurant under Catfish King from 1989 through 1994. "Sallie ran the front of the operation, feeding our guests, and I ran the back, the business end, while our kids grew up on the floor. My mother, Mary Armstrong, moved here in 1990, and Sallie's parents, Bill and Bea Scantlin, in 2005. For a while there we drove a car with two child seats and a handicapped tag. I came into 1995 as president of Noon Rotary, and, on Jan. 1, we bought the restaurant and named it 'Lakehouse.' That isn't a regular word, so nowadays it always gets flagged by spellcheck."

He says their first daughter, Cristin, is his artist and free spirit. She attended University of Texas, married Jay Campbell, and stayed in Austin to be an event floral designer.

The second daughter, Jennifer, went to Texas A&M University. She married Scott Haslut when he was in the Air Force. Now he flies for Delta, and she is an elementary school principal. They have two girls and a boy.

Their third daughter, back to being Lyndsay Armstrong, went to Texas Tech, then graduated from Schreiner University in elementary education. She's an instructional coordinator in Bastrop, and has two boys and a girl

Armstrong says, "That gives us three and three, grandsons and granddaughters."

Meanwhile, he says when he first hit town, he joined Rotary and got elected to the Kerrville Convention & Visitors Bureau board, which led to a seat on the Chamber of Commerce. While he was president there, the chamber developed the Economic Improvement Corporation, and in 2000 Armstrong joined the EIC board.

He says, "We worked on getting the Aquifer Storage and Recovery wells, the highwater bridge here on Thompson Drive, the fourth fire station, and Holdsworth Drive."

But in 2004, he says, "I got good at saying no." It wasn't until 2011 that the Peterson board "pulled him out of retirement."

Armstrong says, "It was a commitment, we don't join that board to play. We administer a nine-figure budget, and employ more than 1,000 people. The Texas Hospital Association teaches people how to sit on a hospital board, and in my fourth year I completed my education, service, and assessment to be certified. After that, there are continuing education requirements.

"But the July meeting will be my last, as I step down and let someone else join the Peterson board. I feel fortunate, during my nine years, to have witnessed a tiny piece of what Peterson Health represents."

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