He portrayed the president of the United States in the 1996 blockbuster movie “Independence Day.” Chances are if Bill Pullman were to actually run for office, he’d get lots of votes from folks associated with St. James Mercy Health System in his native Hornell.
The Pullman Women’s Health & Birthing Center, located on St. James Mercy Hospital’s first floor, is named to acknowledge the Hollywood star’s recent $100,000 gift. Pullman and his wife, Tamara, were on hand this past Dec. 6 for the ribbon-cutting that marked the facility’s reopening under its new title. Four of Pullman’s six siblings attended the ceremony as well.
“We used that chance to kind of reflect amongst each other about our parents’ contribution, and about the hospital and the community,” Pullman recalled in a recent telephone interview.
The actor was referring to the late Dr. James and Johanna Pullman. His father was a longtime general practitioner in Hornell.
“He arrived in 1949 and was practicing for probably about 45 years out of St. James Mercy,” Pullman said.
He added that his mother was a nurse who volunteered for the American Red Cross and taught breast-feeding education through the hospital.
Pullman, 52, said that by contributing to a birthing unit he is helping toward “preparing for future generations in Hornell” while also maintaining “the thought of honoring my parents’ caring professions.”
The $400,000 birthing-center project was funded by the St. James Mercy Foundation as well as gifts from other donors. Pullman’s gift for the naming rights enabled the foundation’s recently concluded annual campaign to raise $314,000, exceeding its $250,000 goal.
Included in the remodeled birthing unit are new, private birthing suites with comfortable beds, recliners, telephones, televisions, VCRs and jet-stream massage showers to provide a home-like atmosphere while also offering the services of many nurses who have considerable experience in obstetrics.
“We built the unit in 1968, and it had not been renovated since. It was just outdated; it needed to be more state-of-the-art,” explained Danielle White, executive director of the St. James Mercy Foundation.
This is not Pullman’s first instance of assisting St. James Mercy: For more than 10 years he has endowed a fund toward a psychiatric-nursing program.
“We certainly have been extremely appreciative of his support over the years, and his continued commitment to our organization on this special (birthing-unit) project,” White said.
Regarding his decision to fund the renovation, “I was really appreciating the plan,” Pullman said. “I thought it was very sophisticated and compassionate, and that always perks up your ears.”
Pullman said his family has always enjoyed a strong bond with St. James Mercy Health, which is sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of Rochester.
“We were Methodist, but Catholics were a very big part of my life,” he remarked.
He noted that his father “fell in love with upstate New York” while attending medical school at the University of Rochester. Dr. Pullman subsequently settled in Hornell; his large family lived in the city and also had a summer home in the town of Hartsville, about 10 miles southwest of Hornell.
Pullman graduated from Hornell High School and went on to earn his bachelor’s degree from SUNY College at Oneonta, then a master’s in theater directing from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. He was briefly a college-theater instructor, but excelled as a stage actor and eventually moved into films.
He hit it big in Hollywood beginning in the mid-1980s. Some of Pullman’s better-known movies have seen him paired with the likes of Mel Brooks (“Spaceballs”), Jodie Foster (“Sommersby”), Geena Davis (“A League of Their Own”) Meg Ryan (“Sleepless in Seattle”), Sandra Bullock (“While Your Were Sleeping”) and Will Smith (“Independence Day”). His more recent projects include a role in “Alien Autopsy” and a cameo in “Scary Movie 4,” both to be released in April; and a part in “Nobel Son,” due out in late 2006.
Pullman and his wife were married in 1987; they have three children and reside in Los Angeles. Pullman said he has in recent years made several trips back to Hornell, where he sees a strong community spirit despite the decline of a once-thriving railroad industry.
“It hasn’t had an easy ride — the nature of how a town has to re-find itself while under a lot of stress. I’ve been impressed with the people from there,” Pullman said. “Shawn Hogan, the mayor, has dedicated himself to doing things in an amazing way, without a lot of resources.”
The city certainly has its own immense resource in Pullman.
“He is absolutely the most down-to-earth, wonderful person,” White stated. “I guess you would say he is not the Hollywood stereotype — he is just the typical person you would meet from Hornell, very humble and very friendly. He didn’t lose his roots.”