Ruth A. Smith fills her mind with compassion and a sense of humor before she leaves for work.
As a volunteer at Fallston General Hospital, the 72-year-old resident of Black Horse has to be prepared to alleviate the fears of those about to undergo or recuperating from operations and to humor other hospital patients.
Her work and commitment -- she has worked as a hospital volunteertwice a week for the past 13 years -- were recognized late last month. She was named a 1991 recipient of the Maryland Jaycees' Outstanding Senior Citizen award, an annual honor given to just 20 Marylanders this year.
Smith says she was surprised to get the award because she's just doing what she likes to do most -- being around people in need. Sometimes, though, she says the work can get a bit quirky.
For example, she recalled, she once had to buy a toy duck for a patientwho had lost her stuffed animal and was upset. The woman, who believed the duck to be alive, was crying about her loss. Smith purchased anew, identical toy duck at the hospital gift shop and brought it to the woman, explaining that she had found it outside swimming.
"I told her it got lost outside and was looking for her. She thought it was the same one. She was so happy, she hugged and kissed it."
On another occasion, Smith, had to calm a patient who was worried about having an operation. Smith, who has been an inpatient in the hospital 66 times and undergone 24 operations, used anecdotes of her own experiences to convince the patient that all would be fine.
"She was scared to death," Smith recalled, adding that the woman was about to have new bone put in her neck. Smith had undergone that same operation twice on her neck and once on her hip.
"I went in and I talked to her, and she was so much more at ease," Smith said.
Smith, who haslogged 8,000 hours as a volunteer, was the only senior from Harford to be named for the award this year.
"It makes me feel good to come home and know that I've helped someone," Smith said.
"I like working at the hospital," said Smith, who lives on the 180-acre Mt. Pleasant Vu Farm. "As long as I can work, I'm happy."
Leonard Chapel, vice president of the Greater Deer Creek Jaycees, which nominated Smith, said the volunteer was chosen "for giving so much of herself freely to the community."
Those who work with Smith say they felt somekind of recognition was long past due.
Susan Anderson, director of the volunteer program at Fallston, described her as a dedicated, hard worker who has the ability to relax patients.
Smith used to work on the recovery floor, where she visited patients and ran errands for hospital staff members. She now works one day a week in the admissions office and another day in the family waiting room.
She stopped working on the recovery room after she had open-heart surgery and had to have a slower-paced job.
On Good Friday, Smith was admitted into the hospital to have a tube inserted through her heart to open up an artery.
Three days after getting home from the hospital, she was back at the hospital, this time to chip in as a volunteer.
Smith's daughter, Ruth A. Poole of Jarrettsville, said hermother makes the ideal hospital volunteer because she can empathize with patients' pain and worry.
"She knows what it's like to have to go into the hospital," said her daughter. "She can go up to these people and say, 'I know what it's like. It's OK."
Said Smith, "I have had so many operations, I can't even remember what they all were for."
Smith said early in life she planned to become a teacher. She didn't have enough money to attend college, so she began a career as a beautician. She set aside that career after she married.
Smith started her work as a volunteer in 1977, following the death of her husband, Clifford B. Smith.
"(Volunteer work) gave her a real purpose after daddy died," said Poole.
Her husband died in 1976 while working on a nearby farm. "He blacked out on the tractor and fell off it," said Smith. "The tractor ran over him and killed him."
In 1984, her son, Clifford B. Smith Jr., was killed in a tractor accident while working asa service manager at a car dealership.
"She has had more to bear than the average person has had to bear," said Chapel of the Deer Creek Jaycees. "And she just keeps right on smiling and right on going."
"I have had a lot of troubles," Smith said, "But I know others who have had worse."