A volunteer who reaps what she has sown
Bev Bright spent most of her life doing for others. Now, at 81, she must let others do for her. And others are grateful for the opportunity.
“Bev is just wonderful,” says Sallie Wandling of Mt. Evans Home Health and Hospice. “She’s done so much for us over the years, and now it’s our turn to be there for her.”
Bev certainly is wonderful, and gracious and warm and quick to smile. When she listens, she gives nothing less than absolute attention. When she speaks, she reveals a kindly heart and lively curiosity. When conversation turns to Evergreen, her eyes sparkle like sunlight on water.
“This has been my home for 40 years,” Bev says. “It’s hard to imagine living anywhere else.”
Bev and her husband, Jay, settled in a breezy prairie-style house atop a woody Hiwan Hills height in 1972. If their new home in the West offered fewer cosmopolitan diversions than the Chesapeake, the active pair had few chances to notice. More often than not, winter weekends were spent slipping down high passes on cross-country skis, and summer ones exploring the Rocky Mountains’ stately peaks, mysterious valleys, and robust pioneering history. Three children filled their cup of happiness to overflowing, and while Jay rose quickly within the ranks of the United States Forest Service, Bev turned her energies toward their community.
“My heart was always with education,” says Bev. “I was a teacher’s assistant at Evergreen Junior High for 14 years. I discovered that I needed something to occupy my time – something I could dedicate myself to.”
For a time, Bev dedicated herself to the Jefferson County Historical Society’s painstaking “living history” project, carefully plumbing the memories of the mountain-area’s eldest residents, and recording them for future generations.
“I loved that. I met so many interesting people, and heard so many interesting stories. And I learned so much I never knew about Evergreen.”
But the full measure of Bev’s remarkable dedication wasn’t realized until one day more than 30 years ago when a small advertisement in the local paper caught her eye. A brand-new and still-struggling Mt. Evans Hospice was looking for volunteers.
“Hospice was something important, and I wanted to help,” Bev recalls. “I didn’t really think I had any skills they would need, but I called (then-director) Louisa Walthers anyway. She brought me on to write thank-you notes and sympathy cards.”
Thousands of area families have received heartfelt thanks from Bev’s artistic hand in 30 years’ time, and many more have been comforted by its sincere condolences. When Bev wasn’t busy inscribing Mt. Evans’ voluminous correspondence, she was busy mailing it. And when she ran out of letters to write and stamps to lick, she made Mt. Evans Angels, or visited patients, or dedicated herself to any other service that needed a helping hand.
“I usually volunteered about one day a week, but I stuffed a lot into that day,” she says. “I feel so lucky that I found Mt. Evans. The people I worked with were wonderful, and it was a place I could really devote myself to.”
The years sped by all too quickly. The Bright children graduated from Evergreen High School and charted new courses of their own. John did a hitch in the Army. Melanie eventually found her way to the island of Crete, where she still lives. Eric became a successful dairy farmer in Missouri. In time, five grandchildren would arrive to soak up all the doting affection adoring grandparents could supply.
Jay’s career took him all over the world, and Bev accompanied him to distant assignments in Europe, Africa and the South Pacific. And each time they returned to Evergreen, Bev thanked Providence and Mt. Evans for the opportunity to repay her many blessings with good works performed on behalf of her mountain neighbors. She was by nature inclined to give. It wasn’t until 1992 that she first gave thought to what she might receive.
In that year, Jay was on assignment in Taiwan when a powerful typhoon struck the island. Caught in open country, he and a handful of co-workers were struck down by the storm. In the blink of an eye, Bev was suddenly, terribly, irrevocably alone, and facing a solitary life in the empty nest that she and her husband intended for two.
“I was devastated. I didn’t know how I was going to go on.”
Bev turned to Mt. Evans for help, and Mt. Evans gave her all it had to give. In the process, Bev begin to discover, with painful clarity, the real importance of the organization to which she’d dedicated herself so many years before.
“Hospice helped me immensely,” says Bev, earnestly. “I took the bereavement counseling course, and it was a Godsend. In fact, I came back and took it again the next year. I guess I didn’t know what I needed. But they did.”
Mt. Evans again knew what Bev needed when, last year at the age of 80, she was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a painful and debilitating condition. For starters, she needed physical therapy, and Mt. Evans arranged for a therapist skilled in combating her ailment’s worst effects. Bev needed someone to take her to doctor appointments and keep track of her medications. Mt. Evans located the kind and capable caregivers who comes by several times a week to make sure Bev never falls behind on her course of treatment. Bev needed someone to cook for her, and help her bathe, and keep her home on the hill tidy and in good working order. Mt. Evans saw to it all. Perhaps most importantly, at least to Bev’s way of thinking, her old friends and comrades at Mt. Evans have seen to it that she need never feel alone.
“They drop by to talk all the time,” she explains. “The companionship is the best thing. Just having someone in the house to talk to is comforting to me.”
If Bev’s condition can be mitigated, it won’t be cured, and her children have asked her to move nearer Eric and his family in Missouri. Their plan makes perfect sense, and Bev expects to find much to love about her new home in the Ozarks, but that doesn’t mean she’s in any hurry to start packing.
Half of her life – the best half, she thinks – was lived in Evergreen. It’s where she and Jay made a home and raised their children. It’s where she found friendship, and community, and an absorbing purpose. It’s where she knew hope and love and loss and healing. And it’s where she can witness daily the essential goodness of the organization to which she dedicated so much of her heart and energy. But it’s telling of Bev’s natural humility that she’s less inclined to recall the many ways in which she served Mt. Evans than to speak gratefully of the many ways in which she has been served.
“Mt. Evans does a great service to me, and to this community,” she says. “It’s been such an important part of my life. I’ll always miss it.”