They knew they had to share her.
They were part of a bigger picture that their mother began painting before they came along and continued to do throughout their lives. But like all masterpieces, images can live on in the minds, and hearts, of all those who are influenced by them. Estelle Rhea (LeBlanc) Ford’s children, and grandchildren, instinctively came to interpret this image through the principles instilled deep in them, through their own experiences as well as the lives of others who had been touched in some way by her. They say many lives were changed as a result of her.
Sharing herself was what Estelle did — all her life. She was “Memere” to everybody.
Estelle passed away on June 19, 2016. All of her family, and friends, have a very deep s6ense of what this woman has done in her community, and each one is committed to the life lessons they learned from her to bring good to others. Estelle would only have wished she could have done more and her
children want to continue her work.
Born in October 1921, she graduated from Gardner High School in 1939 and obtained her nursing degree in 1943 from the Heywood Hospital School of Nursing. She served as a registered nurse for the Navy, aiding wounded soldiers at the Chelsea Naval Hospital in Boston during World War II. After discharge from active duty, Estelle continued to work both as a private nurse and in the wards at Henry Heywood Hospital for a number of years. In May 2014, Estelle joined dozens of other World War II veterans for an Honor Flight New England trip to Washington, D.C., and visited the National World War II Memorial.
She said it was a trip of a lifetime and an honor she would never forget.
It was her eventual longtime post as nurse in the Gardner Public Schools for which many in the city remember her. Over the years, and more recently, members of Estelle’s family have encountered many past students — “her kids” — or school staff who express fond remembrances of the former school nurse. There was an occasional troublemaker, and it was with great skill that she handled each, say her children. They personally learned the story much later from one of these students that her way of handling
his misbehavior made him change his life.
There was much that her family says made Estelle special. It was the telephone worker who had been a former student who arrived to perform some repairs but rather ended up spending a couple hours reconnecting with Mrs. Ford in her home at 81 Church St. It was the care she provided to sick family members, including Beth’s husband and great-granddaughter, Sara, in their battles with cancer. It was the caregivers that she gracefully accepted into her life and treated as family in later years. It was providing private nursing services to many elderly residents in her surrounding community. It was how she treated each and every visitor with a hello that made them feel important and welcome in her home.
While a school nurse, she created and sponsored the Future Nurses Club at Gardner High School. Nursing was her passion and calling in life. She took a lot of interest and enjoyment in seeing students successfully
entering careers in the nursing and medical professions.
The family said that what set their mother and father, Jack, apart was their tireless efforts to take care of the needy in the community surrounding them. Estelle’s children remember the more than 20 childhood years that the family would spend anonymously supplying many with essential items and toys during the year,
but especially wrapping gifts for Christmas Day.
Estelle just “loved people,” her family said, and they hope to continue to touch others the way that she did. She had the “biggest heart in the smallest package” and that she was an “inspiration for all of us.”
To honor her, they have established the Estelle Ford Nursing Scholarship Fund to benefit deserving applicants who either live in Gardner or who will serve the Gardner com-munity in the medical field.
Donations can be made through the Community Fund of North Worcester County
(a 501C3 Non-profit – see donate tab in website to donate).