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NH-VT Schweitzer Fellows Program Co-Founder Holly Field made her life her argument.

Visit Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH, and in addition to standard medical buildings, you’ll notice a series of nature paths along the campus’s western edge. Established in 1999 by New Hampshire-Vermont (NH-VT) Schweitzer Fellow Tim Burdick, they’re known as the Albert Schweitzer Trails. They’re intended to give DHMC patients, visitors and staff the opportunity to rejuvenate themselves during physically and emotionally difficult times—and one of them is called “Holly’s Path.”

Appropriately so—as Holly Field, the path’s namesake, provided exactly that rejuvenation and inspiration for scores of graduate students as the co-founder of the NH-VT Schweitzer Fellows Program.

“As she did for many other Fellows, Holly became a mentor for me,” says Wynona Ward, a member of the very first class of NH-VT Schweitzer Fellows (1996-97) and the founder of Have Justice-Will Travel. “It was Holly who was there each time I needed her. It was Holly who was there each time I became discouraged or didn’t know which way to turn. And it was Holly who was there each time to cheer me on and congratulate me when I was successful.”

“For the longest time,” says ASF Board of Directors member Joseph O’Donnell, MD, “she was just the glue that held the program together.”

It was O’Donnell—Senior Advising Dean and Director of Community Programs at Dartmouth Medical School—who co-founded the NH-VT Schweitzer Fellows Program with Field in 1995. The duo directed and administered the program together until 2000, when current NH-VT Program Director Rebecca Torrey joined the team.

“When you’re launching a program like this, you need a very special energy and commitment to bring it into being,” says Torrey, who worked closely with Field at the program’s helm for years. “Holly had that energy and commitment.”

Field’s father, Henry K. Beecher, MD, was a key figure in the field of medical ethics, and a strong advocate for patient-centered care. When Field and her husband moved to Vermont, a friend of Field’s father—former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop—put Holly in touch with O’Donnell; the two hit it off, and when the opportunity to launch a NH-VT Schweitzer program arose, O’Donnell knew who to call.

“I think she loved her role as Co-Director so much because it brought her back to her roots and her family,” says O’Donnell. “Her dad and all these big medical people were trying to change the world in the 1950s, and all of a
sudden, here she is working with these young idealistic Fellows trying to change the world. They were inspiring to her, just as she was inspiring to them.”

A high school English teacher before launching the NH-VT Schweitzer Program, Field was an extraordinarily effective mentor. “She was a lifelong teacher,” Torrey says, smiling as she recalls Field poring over Fellows’ final reports with a red pen. “She really cared about the Schweitzer Fellows, and went out of her way to mentor them well, and to get involved in their lives and their projects.”

“She would get more out of these Fellows than they knew they had, by the questions she’d ask and the connections she’d see between what they were doing and bigger things,” says O’Donnell.

She also encouraged Fellows like Wynona Ward to pursue those connections. Field helped Ward secure funding to launch Have Justice-Will Travel, and served as a board member for the nonprofit legal organization until her death in December 2009 after a battle with cancer.

“Holly was happiest when she was helping others,” says Ward. “She lived life to the fullest and embodied Reverence for Life.”

“She lived a life that was very reverent—she was an incredible gardener, adored children, and was devoted to her many pets,” Torrey says. “She had a zest for life that was really just limitless—a sparkle in her eye.”

And when ASF President Lachlan Forrow, MD, brought Field a stone hippopotamus from the Schweitzer Hospital in Lambaréné, Africa and presented it to her when she was named an honorary Schweitzer Fellow for Life in 2005, that sparkle was in full evidence.

“You couldn’t have done anything in the world to make Holly any happier,” O’Donnell says.

“Holly meant so much both to the Schweitzer Fellowship as an organization, and to the individual NH-VT Fellows whose lives she touched,” Forrow says. “We are deeply saddened by her loss, but we are so grateful to have known her while she was here.”

To make a gift to the New Hampshire-Vermont Schweitzer Fellows Program in honor of Holly Field, click here.

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