Carol Westing says she fell in love with Vermont when she and Arthur visited on their honeymoon. The Michigan native had never been to New England until she and Arthur took that three-week camping trip. “I kept saying, this is it. I just know this is where we’ve got to live. Arthur had started a Ph.D. program at Yale, so it was natural that we would live in New England.”
They were able to settle in Vermont nine years later when Arthur, a forest ecologist, was hired by the recently-established Windham College in Putney. Carol obtained a Master’s degree in special education from Keene State and began teaching in the Windham County school system. The young couple bought a home in Westminster West and raised their two children, Jeanne and Stephen, there.
Their bucolic existence was interrupted by the Viet Nam Conflict. Arthur teamed up with a wildlife biologist from the University of Montana and traveled to the war-torn country to study the environmental impact of chemicals being used by the U.S. military, most notably a chemical named Agent Orange.
“We went over initially to look at the damage to the countryside. We started getting anecdotal reports that poultry and livestock were damaged and that people were getting sick,” says Arthur. They reported the findings to the U.S. Ambassador to South Vietnam, Ellsworth Bunker, a resident of Dummerston and coincidentally a friend of Arthur’s from their work with the Windham World Affairs Council. “We told him we were quite certain that these chemicals were causing human illness and possibly even death. He said, that’s nothing that we counted on. I’m going to put an end to it immediately. And he stopped it within days.”
Arthur continued to study the impact of military action on the environment for a United Nations-funded project, causing the Westing family to move first to Sweden and then to Norway. As a college student at Michigan State, Carol had envisioned a life spent in foreign lands. Her interest in politics and adeptness at learning foreign languages had her leaning toward a career as a foreign service officer. But after ten years in Scandinavia she longed to return to the state that had enchanted her years before.
“I always liked the way people cared about each other in Vermont, and I was still young enough that I felt I could get one more good job,” says Carol. She was hired by the Meadows School of the Brattleboro Retreat. The couple built a house in Putney and re-dedicated themselves to the community. Arthur served on the Windham Regional Commission and the Woodland Owners Association; while Carol, a breast cancer survivor, worked with Jane Baker and Jane Sbardella to start a continuing breast cancer support group at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.
“I had joined a Swedish breast cancer support group. It had meant so much to me that I wanted to help start one here,” says Carol, adding how responsive BMH was when the group approached it with the idea of establishing a comprehensive breast care program navigated by an oncological nurse, who eventually would take over our support group. “We couldn’t have asked for a more helpful, supportive hospital.”
The Westings’ appreciation for BMH has deepened during the past six months, as Arthur has had to make several overnight visits. The quality of care compelled them to make a charitable gift annuity to BMH, which they call a “win-win situation.”
“You give them the money, the hospital is able to use it, and while we’re still alive we get an income,” explains Arthur. “We hear horror stories about hospitals in other communities, but this one is very different. It’s part of the community, it’s well-staffed by good doctors and nurses and a fine staff. The experience there was really one we could praise and honestly tell our friends that the institution is truly worth supporting.”