Doris died yesterday. To write that Doris was one of my employees would grossly understate her impact on me, but to write that she was a friend would be an unnatural stretch. Doris was life’s wisdom in a floaty summer skirt and size 10 sandals, half a size to large for us to trade shoes. She was a constant reminder of what really mattered.
As a teenager Doris lost a friend to sickle cell disease. I have no idea how Doris started her career at the blood center, but her motivation every day for 26 1/2 years was rooted in that personal experience. When a patient needed a specific donor match, it was Doris who made the calls to get those special donors in the door with their sleeves rolled up.
Doris started calling me in the fall of 2004, when I worked in the Mayor’s office. The County held regular blood drives and at the time gave a half day of personal time to anyone who donated. I was a relatively new employee and had no accrued leave when the first blood drive was announced, in late June 2004. I thought it would be an easy way to earn an afternoon off so I could catch up on errands without having my young children in tow, so I donated. About eight weeks later, Doris started calling.
Doris called and called. I was very uncharitable and nonresponsive. I would see “Lifeblood” on the caller ID in my office and let the call go to voice mail.
“Jennifer, this is Doris calling from Lifeblood….”
Each message, rich with her dulcet voice, had a slightly new approach. It went on for months this way. Then late one Friday afternoon, the day before the July 4th holiday weekend in 2005, I answered the phone. I just couldn’t let that nice-sounding woman face my voicemail block again.
I thought Doris was calling because Doris called everyone. I thought Doris called me the same way the Salvation Army called to see if I had any furniture or clothes I wanted to leave on the porch for them to pick up. But that Friday afternoon at 4:00 Doris explained that a child was scheduled for heart surgery the following Tuesday and that the doctors needed seven units of blood for the surgery. The units had to be collected by noon on Saturday, and only five donors had agreed to donate despite Doris’s day-long phone effort. And so Doris said, quite kindly, that while she certainly understood my children and my dogs and my house needed me on Saturday morning, this child needed me more. Needed me, not just anyone.
I went. And from then on, I answered the phone whenever Doris called. Two years later, through a completely random series of events, I accepted a job at the blood center and finally met Doris in person. About six months after I started working there, Doris said, “I think you’ll do just fine.”
Doris made delicious deviled eggs, and she adored a good meat and cheese tray. She remembered everyone’s birthday and blood type without any cheat sheets. She arrived with a smile every day and sat in her cubicle and used her beautiful voice to coax people into doing the right thing without ever giving up. She tolerated my new ideas for donor recruitment and never once said “I told you so” when I was wrong. And for an unknown number of patients, she helped save their lives.
Doris wasn’t feeling well the past few weeks and thought she might need some time off. Then yesterday, without warning, she died. From here on, without Doris to call and ask you herself, I’ll have to try my best to send her message forward, starting now:
Someone is waiting on you. Make the day count.