Community mourns loss of former school nurse (3/26/09)

Shea succumbs to cancer

March 26, 2009

By Mariana Lamaison Sears

Observer correspondent

The Williston school community on Monday mourned the loss of former school district nurse Kathy Shea, remembered by many as a children’s advocate, a friend and someone fun to be around.

“She was at the heart of WCS, and she was also at the heart of CY,” said Nancy Carlson, coordinator of the Connecting Youth Mentoring Program at Williston Central School.

Shea contributed by being a mentor herself and also by referring to the program students whom she knew would benefit from having a mentor, Carlson said.

“She made sure each student was safe, valued and cared for. She went way beyond her job description,” Carlson said.

Shea passed away Friday at her Williston home, per her request, after battling adrenal cancer, a rare disease that originates in the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys, for more than two years. She was 52. Relatives, friends and coworkers attended the funeral service Monday afternoon at St. John Vianney Catholic Church in South Burlington.

“It’s hard to do her justice,” said Cid Gause, a school district administrative assistant whose children attended the Williston schools and benefited from Shea’s nursing care.

Shea began working for the district in 1995 and worked at Allen Brook and Williston Central schools until she went on medical leave last year, Gause said. As the school nurse, she was a registered nurse and a licensed teacher.

Gause recalled the parade of children stopping by Shea’s office at Williston Central with all sorts of complaints. Shea would offer them one of her “magic crackers” kept in a special bowl with the earnest belief that anything could be cured with a kind word and a saltine cracker, Gause said.

“It meant a lot to them,” she said.

Shea also conducted her work very professionally, according to longtime Williston physical education teacher Jennifer Oakes. Shea started as a substitute nurse while working at Fletcher Allen Health Care, said Oakes, and was highly skilled and experienced.

“We’ve had broken bones and people with heart issues and she always handled all situations with calm,” she said. Oakes also knew Shea as a parent, as she was a teacher to Shea’s two sons. “She was a single parent for the most part, it was pretty amazing.”

The Observer talked to Shea’s youngest son, Mark Lerner of San Diego, Calif., and he said the family agreed to have his mother’s friends share their memories.

Shea was also remembered as someone involved in the community. She used to coordinate the distribution of Thanksgiving baskets for families in need and collect clothes and other donations through the holiday season, Gause and Oakes said. From her work with the children at the school she was aware of which families were struggling, they said.

Shea’s friend and former co-worker Melissa Cronin of South Burlington said she was not surprised to see the outpouring of love at Shea’s funeral and at the gathering that followed right after at her home. Cronin, who was a substitute nurse for the school district a couple of years ago, remembered Shea as an open, welcoming and encouraging person.

“It was easy to become her friend,” Cronin said.

Josie Bateman agreed. A fellow nurse and close friend of Shea’s, Bateman said she had lots of friends.

“She loved all of us, all the same but individually. We learned so much (from) her,” Bateman said.

Cronin also remembered mentioning to Shea she wanted to try acupuncture. Next thing she knew, she was attending an acupuncture session with Shea.

“It’s a great example of how encouraging she was,” Cronin said.

Oakes said that after being diagnosed with cancer, Shea began supporting and encouraging others becoming ill with cancer. Shea took part in a dragon boating festival in Burlington to raise funds for children and breast cancer survivors, Oakes said. Shea was also fascinated by the world and loved to travel and explore; “she wanted to be a participant in life,” Oakes said.

Shea’s encouraging and fun personality and her devotion to the community will keep her spirit alive in the hearts of those she met.

“She was quick to laugh, a lovely person,” Gause said.

“She was just wonderful,” Oakes said.

“We are honored to have been part of her life,” Bateman said.