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Guilford nurse dedicated life to help those in need

Guilford Cares founder Susan Davis remembered for a legacy of caring

GUILFORD—Friends, family, and colleagues of Susan Davis filled Guilford Community Church on Saturday afternoon for her memorial service.

Davis, who died on Oct. 26 at home of kidney and liver failure at age 64, was a nurse and caregiver for 35 years, and the founder of Guilford Cares, a community organization dedicated to taking care of people who were falling between the cracks of the health care system.

Her husband, Richard Davis, is also a nurse and caregiver, as well as a columnist for the Brattleboro Reformer and a health care reform advocate and activist. He said that his wife was always bothered by the mistaken assumption that many had that he ran Guilford Cares.

“It was all her idea,” Richard said. “She set it up, and she made it go. I was just along for the ride. I’m more outspoken than she was, so I ended up getting all the attention. But it was her vision; I helped her, and worked with her, but she did all the work.”

And that work was considerable.

From providing free rentals of medical devices such as walkers and wheelchairs, to arranging visiting nurse coverage, Susan Davis worked tirelessly to make sure those in need got what they needed.

Pastor Lise Sparrow, who led the memorial service, said she remembers talking with Susan after every month’s senior luncheon and her asking, “Who do we need to think about this month?”

“She would always try things none of us would do,” Sparrow said. “She had the ability to be visible and invisible at the same time. She was someone who was comfortable where others would be uncomfortable.”

Susan’s sister, Anne Sylvius, remembered her as someone “who did the worrying for everyone else and never wanted anyone to worry about her.”

“Most of us hope to make a difference in people’s lives,” concluded Sylvius, “but she actually did.”

‘She did it’

One of those whose lives Susan Davis affected was Tina Blust, now the president of Guilford Cares.

Blust remembered when she was a new nurse at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital in the late 1980s, and working with Susan Davis for the first time.

“She was talking about the importance of taking care of patients after they left the hospital, and as a new nurse, it never occurred to me, because I thought we fixed them up and sent them home and that was it.”

That, Blust said, was when she started seeing Susan’s strength as someone “who was always calm and always present for the patients.”

“She was an advocate, and when something needed to be done, she did it,” she said.

The beauty of Guilford Cares, Blust said, is that it is a community organization where most of the volunteers and most of the clients know one another. But its main ingredient was Susan Davis’s unique combination of nursing skills and deep connections with so many people in the area.

And Susan’s devotion to the organization was total, right up until her illness no longer allowed her to perform her duties.

But Blust assured everyone that Guilford Cares was here to stay.

“This is Susan’s baby,” she said. “And it’s all about people. It is not going to go away.”

Those sentiments were echoed by Richard Davis, who said he and his wife of nearly 35 years both realized that they “wanted an organization that would sustain itself without being reliant on one individual.”

Richard said he and his wife had both stepped down from the board a couple of years ago, and that Blust and the rest of the current Guilford Cares board are doing a good job sustaining the founding vision.

“It’s a healthy thing to be able to step away,” said Richard. “I’m very confident it will sustain itself, and the whole town is very supportive.”

“Every year, we make a request for funds at Town Meeting, and every year, we usually get more than we asked for,” he said. “ This is really a great community, and it’s times like these when you see it.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #126 (Wednesday, November 9, 2011).

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