The Age-enda - Two women worth knowing

Recently there were front page articles on two women: one, a nurse who integrated nursing in Seattle, and the other who led a full life up until her death at 110.

They weren't celebrities, Pulitzer Prize winners or political wheeler-dealers. They were just "ordinary" women who managed to accomplish extraordinary things.

Maxine Haynes was rejected by the University of Washington School of Nursing because she was a "colored girl." Rather than figure that just was the way it was and give up on her dream, she went east and found a nursing school that would accept her. She returned to Seattle and became the first African-American nurse to be hired by Providence Hospital.

Later, she taught at various colleges, finally returning to UW. Haynes wecomed the change in climate; there was so much good to be done.

After proving herself at UW, she joined Seattle Pacific University as a full professor of community-health nursing. She started a pre-professional program for disadvantaged, young people in the nursing program. Her goal in life was simply to help people have a better life.

Eva Fridell had a very different life, spending half her childhood in an orphanage while her mother worked in Alaska to make enough money so that she could eventually make a home for Eva and her siblings. While she was in the orphanage, Frisell read constantly as an escape from her loneliness.

Eventually, her mother came home and redeemed her children. Frisell kept reading. Through a life that spanned three centuries, through the darkest moments, she kept on reading. Although she did not finish high school, much less college, she educated herself by continuing to read incessantly until about three months before her death. She could recite poems for all occasions, from Shakespeare to Longfellow to Billy Collins. She made living to be 110 a joy and a pleasure.

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I admire those women. They weren't earth-shakers or Nobel Prize winners. They were my neighbors.

I think of all the people I see in the market, on the bus, at the library - whom I'll never recognize until I read their obituaries. The many people who have offered me among others acts of kindness, especially since I'm not as agile as I once was.

As I get on an Access van, I think of the Access drivers who make it possible for me to wander. They almost always do it happily and helpfully and on time, though, at times, they, too, must be ready to protest vehemently as they find unknown cul-de-sacs or fight traffic on I-5 at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Do I always say thank you when I am delivered safely? I hope so.

Most Metro bus drivers also are amazingly kind. They answer questions of visitors and lost locals and then call out the street to make sure the lost ones get off at the right stop.

They also quite happily let the lift down for the people who need it, and they don't make us feel we've caused a delay that will make the bus 15 minutes late for the rest of the day.

When my trusty walker and I go to the Seattle Center House - and before I can begin to wrestle with the door that outweighs me by 50 pounds - a street person, with a friendly smile, comes over and opens it for me. At the same time, I'm aware of a teenager chasing after a woman with a baby in a stroller to give her the baby's cap, which had fallen from the stroller.

* * *

On an early morning walk, a fellow walker smiles and says good morning as we pass.

A grandchild leaps out from the car and holds the door open for me.

A gardener offers to take my recycling for me when he sees me staggering toward the bin.

At a grocery store, a jar I need but can't reach almost drives me to tears as I try to do the impossible. A tall man comes by and asks if he might reach it for me and saves me from possible self-destruction.

In the evening, when I sit down for a quiet few minutes to review my day, I find it is full of those little acts of kindness, and my faith in us humans is once again revived.

Roberta Cole writes about seniors' issues. Send e-mail to her at

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