Mary Cantrell – Executive Director of UAMS Clinical Skills Center

Life is too short for bad food, Mary Cantrell is fond of saying. It’s also too short to not pursue your passions, she discovered.

Cantrell is probably best known as the host of “Arkansas Cooks” radio program, signing off with her famous phrase. But there’s a lot more to her – she’s been a single mom, working actress, UALR graduate twice over, and overseer of two patient-centered programs that combine her many talents.

Cantrell was the youngest of four children to a single mom. The Parkview graduate had her heart set on attending the North Carolina School for the Arts, but her mother insisted on a different path – the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“At the time it seemed like I lost but now I know that it is the best thing that happened to me,” Cantrell said. “I had a great theatre experience and I was able to go to school on grants and graduated with no debt.”

With an undergraduate degree in theatre under her belt, Cantrell worked as an actress for nearly 13 years. But then she decided to return to school to support her young daughter.

“I began a program at UAMS called the Standardized Patient Program and I found a perfect graduate school program at UALR called Interpersonal and Organizational Communications,” Cantrell said. “It was a perfect fit for the teaching that I was doing at UAMS. I was training laypeople to be patients and then the healthcare students at UAMS were working on these standardized patients.”

Cantrell credits her theatre background and masters degree for her career success. She serves as executive director of the UAMS Center for Clinical Skills and Simulation Education, which trains health-care professionals on how to communicate with patients and provide compassionate care. She also is director of the PULSE Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, doing the same type of work. A third center, the Walker Student Education Center at UAMS in northwest Arkansas, also will be under her direction.

In addition to her real jobs, Cantrell also the voice KUAR listeners hear every Saturday on “Arkansas Cooks.”

Q&A with Mary

What was your favorite class? I failed Speech 1300 because it had a lab and I never went. I ended up taking it in the summer in a concentrated two week course that met 8-4 with Steve Runnenbaum. He was sensational, and I took his Interpersonal Communications class the next semester. That was my favorite. It is the reason I got a masters degree in Speech Communications.

What is your favorite UALR memory? We had a late rehearsal one night for Cabaret. We had a lot of tension during rehearsal because of a threat someone had sent us. So we were constantly being guarded and had to be very careful coming and going from the theatre. Blazing Saddles had just been released and was playing in the University Shopping Centers old theaters. We had another threat and all had to leave the theatre and we went next door and all watched the movie together and laughed all night. Cabaret continues to be one of my favorite musicals and Blazing Saddles one of my favorite movies.

If you could spend one day anywhere in the world, where would it be? I would have to say Central Oregon where the Cascade Mountains are beautiful and the air is crisp and clean.

If you could talk to anyone, alive or dead, who would it be? Why? This may sound corny but it would be Mary the mother of Jesus. I just think as a mother, I would love to talk to her about what it was like to have gone throughout what she went through for 33 years and how she watched her son, obviously a great kid, grow up and die the way he did. There is a beautiful Byzantine hymn in the Pascha service that talks about her disbelief of what is happening to her son in the final days. As a mother it is both beautiful and heartbreaking.

What is your hands-down favorite meal? Summertime in Arkansas: BLTs with Petit Jean Pepper Bacon, Fresh Bradley Country Tomatoes cut thick, and fresh garden lettuce and light mayo, homemade mayo if I can.

Complete this sentence: When I was a child, I always … thought I would use my imagination and get paid for it. I wanted to be acting or creating something.

What one word would you use to describe yourself? Yes! It’s my favorite word, and I want to be a big Yes for people around me so that things can happen.


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