Earthly Angels In the season of comfort and joy, celebrate those who comfort in despair

December 20, 1992|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

When a weary world rejoices, who deserves to celebrate more than those who battle despair all year long?

They feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, comfort the dying.

Their goodwill knows no season. And their devotion gives us hope even in times of turmoil.

During the holidays, we herald their efforts and glance into the lives of these earthly angels.

Ida Hudson

Say a fire devastates your home, forcing you and your husband to live in the garage for five months. Friends lend you a scrap of carpet and a small television, and you move into a motor home while carpenters rebuild. You wear the same outfit over and over. You eat more canned beans than you thought possible. You get mad and blame God.

The last thing most people would do is help others.

Then again, most people aren't like Ida Hudson.

Two months after a five-alarm blaze nearly razed the two-story bungalow in Dundalk she called home for 42 years, she was back at work as a Red Cross disaster action volunteer.

"I remembered clients who had no friends, no motor home, no garage. I had so much, and I felt out of control and angry. I thought, 'How must they feel?' " says Ms. Hudson, 60.

Now more than ever, she understands their grief. When they cry, she cries, too. But after the tears, she begins the long process of helping them rebuild their lives. It starts by assessing the damage and finding them a temporary home, clothes and food.

In the last four years, she has traveled to some of the nation's worst disasters -- including Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo and Iniki -- as well as local fires, tornadoes and floods.

She's learned to dress quickly in the middle of the night, to navigate streets others wouldn't travel in daylight, to see hope in the debris.

Testament to her experience came last fall when she got a call from the Red Cross asking her to aid victims of Hurricane Andrew. For four weeks, she worked 18-hour days in Florida, supervising 38 caseworkers -- including physicians and dentists -- from many states. Today she keeps in contact with many people she has met in her travels, including one survivor whose teen-age daughter died in the hurricane.

Ms. Hudson took an early retirement from her secretarial job at Dundalk Community College to devote herself to volunteering. Disaster relief work appealed to her because it offered immediate assistance after a tragedy.

"But I don't have any special strength," she says. "I'm just human being like everybody else."

Lynda Dee

Lynda Dee is running on anger.

You can hear it in her husky voice, see it in her tense features, feel it when she talks about her husband's death six years ago.

He died of AIDS, and since then, Ms. Dee has made a career out of helping others who are HIV-positive.

As president of AIDS Action Baltimore, she calls herself the mouthpiece for patients, fighting for things they're often too weak to ask for: money, research, housing, insurance.

She doesn't want others to go through what she did after her husband was diagnosed. "I felt like I was deserted. Nobody cared. Nobody helped. . . . It's awful to watch somebody die and not be able to do anything about it," says Ms. Dee, 40, who lives in Ednor Gardens.

Her husband's death wasn't the first tragedy in her life. In 1985, their six-week-old son, Grant, died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"I've had a lot of rock-bottoms in life," she says.

She's given up counting the number of funerals she's attended for AIDS victims. She can't bring herself to cross out their names or phone numbers in her address book, though. She's afraid of what she might see.

But Ms. Dee has given up believing that if she works harder, she can fix this. Now it's enough to provide services, educate others and win an occasional battle with the medical establishment.

She feels burned-out, but the cause is so much a part of her she can't imagine her life without it. It's made her impatient. She suffers from migraines. And she's not sure what happened to her sense of humor.

"Sometimes I feel like, 'Get a life.' Years ago, I used to be such a fun-loving person. I'm not now."

Ms. Dee divides her time between this and a career as a criminalawyer. She also belongs to numerous boards and advisory groups that look at AIDS research and treatment.

She has tested negatively for the disease and acknowledges that survivor's guilt also motivates her.

Every time she hears about another person dying of AIDS, it re-opens old wounds.

"You work and you work," she says, "so you won't think about your pain."

Nancy Kavanagh O'Neill

In the fight against hunger, Nancy Kavanagh O'Neill's best weapon is her camera.

For the last three years, she has captured the many faces of hunger around the state, shooting some 200 rolls of film for the Maryland Food Committee.

As a top volunteer, she is part of a growing trend among non-profits. With funding for public programs dwindling and human need increasing, these groups are relying more on the talents of people like Ms. O'Neill, who is a professional photographer.

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