Sitting in the living room of her Hinsdale home, Mary Harrington raps her knuckles on a side table when talking about how good her health has been since having a stent inserted 11 years ago. On the Thursday before Independence Day weekend in 2003, she could tell something was wrong but couldn’t articulate exactly what. Her husband, Walter, could tell as well, even though she tried to conceal it. After having a “spell” carrying a fan downstairs from their bedroom he urged her to go to the hospital. It took an additional episode a couple of hours later before Mary finally conceded.
Fortunately, Mary’s visit to the BMH Emergency Department came on an evening when cardiologist Burt Tepfer, MD was visiting patients before a holiday getaway. He examined her and set-up an appointment to have the stent inserted at Dartmouth-Hitchcock the following Monday. In the meantime, Mary would spend Fourth of July weekend in BMH’s Intensive Care Unit. “Which was fine with me,” she recalls. “The nursing staff was wonderful. It was air-conditioned. I got good food and I could watch the Red Sox. I was perfectly happy.”
Up until then, the Harrington’s had not had much interaction with the hospital despite a long history in the area. Walter was a Brattleboro native and Mary had been a student at Northfield Mount Hermon. Even though her father’s job as a civil engineer took the family to the Panama Canal Zone and North Africa before she graduated high school, she always had a sense she would ultimately put roots down in New England. “My father was a Dartmouth man and he wanted to settle there for retirement. So this was home turf,” Mary said.
Brattleboro became home turf for Mary after meeting Walter. She was back at Northfield Mount Hermon as an employee and chaperoning a student trip to Hogback Mountain, where Walter was the ski patrol director. After they married, Mary took a job in the operations division at The Experiment in International Living. She stayed there for more than 30 years and loved the work as well as the opportunity to interact with people from so many different cultures.
Mary had been retired for a full seven years at the time she had her stent, and she was eager to volunteer someplace where she could be part of a community. A friend who volunteered at the front desk at BMH encouraged her to volunteer, which she continues to do today. “Not everybody feels comfortable when they come to the hospital,” Mary says. “If I can do anything to make people feel more comfortable in the hospital, it makes the doctor’s job easier and the patient gets better service.”
She also donates to the Annual Fund and recently included BMH as a beneficiary in her will. Her support is modest, but having worked at educational institutions and volunteered in the hospital’s development office she understands the value of every contribution. “I think that if everybody gives a small share, it makes a big share,” says Mary. “It’s nice that people can give generously but if all of us do our own little part, it goes a lot further. And we all feel a better connection with the hospital because of it.”