"When we started, rehabilitation was a fairly new and uncommon thing," Gardner said. "It was only really developed during the second World War."
Like Cary, Howard Gardner had become interested in rehabilitation after working with veterans, in his case, from the Vietnam War.
"He thought, 'My goodness, this is wonderful. We should have this for our neurological patients,'" Gardner said.
Cary said the process of setting up a hospital — and getting the neighborhood to accept it — wasn't always easy.
"It was giving birth. It was really like giving birth," she said. "We were like a bunch of midwives."
She remembered pulling 20-plus-hour shifts at the hospital to keep things running. She made holiday gifts for every patient and delivered them on Christmas Eve, and organized patient fashion shows. She made sure doctors paid attention to their patients, many of whom were recovering from head injuries and strokes.
"I used to say, 'Doctor, say hello to that patient. They're paying your salary, you know,'" she said.
Hospital CEO John Prochilo has been there for 23 years. He said Cary's work extended beyond her job description.
"She really did everything. She had her fingers in everything," he said. "She's really our conscience and our soul."
Cary left the hospital in the late 1990s.
"I'm better at starting things than maintaining them," she said.
She said she thought what made the hospital special was its reputation for "family spirit" and how much effort the staff puts into caring for patients.
"I used to say it was the best kept secret in Salem, but I can't say that," she said. "I think it's the best rehab hospital in New England."
Over time, with new technology and more experienced staff, the little hospital they started has grown into something larger — and the staff has grown, too, Gardner said.