When Richard Davis was told he had coronary artery disease seven years ago, he never imagined that the diagnosis would have a profoundly positive effect on his life.
With a 99 percent blockage in one of the main arteries in his heart, Davis no longer was able to walk without shortness of breath and pain. The blockage was cleared with angioplasty, which set the course for his recovery, with the help of medication, diet and an exercise regimen.
When Davis retired in 2003, he jumped at the opportunity to volunteer at Howard County General Hospital, where he received his treatment. "It takes your eyes off yourself and onto someone else," said Davis, recently named Howard County's 2006 Volunteer of the Year.
Davis was one of 41 individuals and 11 community groups recognized by Howard County as a part of the state's Maryland You Are Beautiful Program, which honors voluntarism in the state.
A 10-year Howard County resident, Davis, 61, is Volunteer Coordinator for the American Cancer Society's Active for Life program at the hospital.
He also is a tour guide at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, counsels foreign exchange students through the Howard County chapter of the American Field Service, cares for stranded animals with the Marine Animal Rescue Program and donates time to the Association of Community Services.
But he is most touched by recognition of his work at the hospital. "I have held many titles in my life," said Davis, "but this is the most meaningful."
Davis began his volunteer service at the hospital by volunteering in the cardiac rehab unit, mostly doing clerical work. He drew on his experience as a cardiac patient and his background in using the Internet and was involved in research for the hospital and compiling a mailing list.
Once on board, Davis was unstoppable, said Barbara Swann, the hospital's director of volunteer services.
"He takes something he is passionate about and expands it further every time. You can't find another Richard," she said.
Martine Milman, the clinical program manager for pulmonary rehabilitation at the hospital, describes Davis as a role model for the community.
"Seeing someone with his drive and commitment and interest in volunteering his time gives others the incentive to volunteer," she said.
Davis joined the hospital auxiliary board, where he serves as treasurer, and also serves as chairman of the hospital's holiday gift-wrapping fundraiser.
He brought the American Cancer Society's Active for Life program to the hospital. Active for Life is a free, 10- to 12-week program designed to help encourage a healthy adult lifestyle, combining physical activity with education.
"It is an environment, not a gym," Davis said. "It is a behavioral change and a change in habits." After successfully introducing the program to hospital staff, Davis took charge as the program's volunteer coordinator at the hospital, making it available to patients. He also worked closely with Carol Wasser, the vice president of community services at the Columbia Association, to offer the program to CA members.
Davis' commitment to his community stems from examples in his family. In 1999, Davis' older brother, Ed, was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award.
"I was there the night he won," Davis said. "I was so happy for him."
Davis' wife, Jenny, is an active volunteer as well. He recalls that at age 19, when he met his wife, "she had taken vows to community and church work and was living on a stipend, giving to charity at a young age." She has been actively involved in American Field Service and, over the years, the couple has been host to five foreign exchange students.
While Davis serves as a model for others, he does not pressure them.
"People self-elect to volunteer," he said. "You can't push people to volunteer."