Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

For two bay area top volunteers, 'hospice is about life'

Paula Haydon, left, of Spring Hill and Irene Southwick of Dunedin have received the Volunteers are the Foundation of Hospice Award. It’s the first time the awards panel named two top places. 

Special to the Times

Paula Haydon, left, of Spring Hill and Irene Southwick of Dunedin have received the Volunteers are the Foundation of Hospice Award. It’s the first time the awards panel named two top places. 

Some might think of volunteer service for hospice as a grim job. Not so, say two Tampa Bay-area women who recently received the highest volunteer honor bestowed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Paula Haydon, 63, of Spring Hill and Irene Southwick, 72, of Dunedin were honored with the Volunteers are the Foundation of Hospice Award at the organization's sixth annual national conference on Dec. 5 in Lake Buena Vista.

"Some people might think it's a sad job, but it's a happy job. It's very fulfilling," Haydon said. "Hospice is about life, about helping in life any way you can at any given moment."

Southwick concurred: "It's a job that needs to be done, and we just do it. To be able to keep everything going along, to help the family — it's one of those things that's very rewarding."

Each woman has logged more than 6,000 hours of giving care, comfort and compassion to patients facing life's end and to their families.

"It's not just the hours; it's the contributions they make," said Galen Miller, executive vice president for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, headquartered in Arlington, Va. "It's the importance of volunteers to hospice and truly what the volunteers contribute to the program and direct care to the patient and family."

The hospice organization represents about 4,000 locations across the country, including 46 in Florida. Not all of them file nominations for awards, Miller said, and he couldn't say last week how many had been considered for this year's honor.

But with their dual citations, Haydon and Southwick put Florida on the care map and marked a first as well, Miller noted: Never before has the national awards panel of health care professionals recognized more than one person as the year's top volunteer.

At Suncoast Hospice of Clearwater, which nominated Southwick, director of public relations and marketing Louise Cleary said of her organization, which serves Pinellas County: "Not only is it the first time (for someone to win the award), but it is two neighboring areas, so we think that's very special."

Haydon was nominated by HPH Hospice, which provides services in Hernando, Pasco and Citrus counties.

"This is wonderful for us. It says a lot about the Tampa Bay community," said Jane Freeman, HPH's community relations coordinator.

Haydon, a hospice volunteer since 1998, had retired from a radiation therapy job at age 50.

"I was playing a lot of tennis and golf and traveling and having a great time and realized something was lacking in my life," she said.

She had helped Habitat for Humanity build a house and was then at loose ends.

"Someone mentioned hospice, and all of a sudden I absolutely realized that that was what I wanted to do," she said.

Southwick's introduction to hospice was similar. She had put in two years of volunteer community callings after completing a ministry course at St. Alfred's Episcopal Church in Palm Harbor and a leadership course at Loyola University in Baltimore. That was after she had retired from teaching adult education classes in the Pinellas County school district.

"One day, one of our retired nurses (at the church) and another who volunteered (at a local hospital) suggested hospice," Southwick said. "I just realized that all the training I had would be used in hospice. That was 1998, and I've been doing it ever since."

Southwick's and Haydon's training continued in their new pursuit, both taking hospice-sponsored classes in patient care giving, respite care, bereavement counseling and special needs of life-threatened children as well as youths suffering the loss of a loved one.

The efforts for children magnetized Southwick's devotion. She signed on for Suncoast Hospice's perinatal program, which provides comfort and support to those who lose a child at birth, who are expecting a stillborn baby or who just need sensitive advocacy with a newborn.

Southwick turned to her sewing machine for help. She stitches little gowns for premature babies and "heart wraps," or cuddle blankets, for other newborns — the parents often taking the blankets home.

"Sewing is my therapy," she said. And it can be for others, too.

"The hardest thing I've ever done for hospice: We just had a family, a grandmother was in bereavement," Southwick said. "Her daughter had killed her three children and herself, and the grandmother wanted quilts on the one-year anniversary (of their deaths). The grandmother said she was ready to let go of the children's clothing."

The clothing was delivered to Southwick, who snipped the clothes into patches and sewed them into three quilts, then added a pillow.

The grandmother, "when she saw these things, she began to heal," Southwick said.

Haydon conceded that hospice calls often are sad. "Sometimes there are tears involved," she said, "but you know others are there to be helped."

Both women said they get a boost from volunteering to help run children's camps.

"You can help them cope better," Southwick said. "At a very trying time in life, you are changing their future."

Haydon said that for her, "the most rewarding is when I can sit down with patients and talk about their lives and their memories. Everything they tell me is something I can learn from — about life, about love and, of course, about caring."

The women's volunteer work can include transporting patients to doctor's appointments, cleaning a bedridden patient's refrigerator, playing favorite or soothing music for them, providing company for a patient whose caregiver needs a break, and holding hands and giving hugs.

Each of the award winners gave credit to her spouse.

Haydon said of her husband, David: "He's always understanding. I couldn't do it without his support." If she's late for dinner due to her volunteer work, she said, he will cook himself and keep her plate warm until she returns home.

Said Southwick of her spouse, Dale: "I have a husband who is very tolerant of all my work hours."

Southwick and Haydon both said they plan to continue their volunteer work for the foreseeable future.

"You can only have fun so many hours a day," Haydon said, "and then you need to find something that is rewarding."

Beth Gray can be contacted at

For two bay area top volunteers, 'hospice is about life' 12/12/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 12, 2009 1:34pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays blow lead, rally, blow lead, rally again to beat Twins in 15 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays sure made it interesting Sunday, taking an early lead, watching their beleaguered bullpen blow it, rallying to tie in the ninth, battling the Twins to take a lead in the 14th then giving it up again.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 28: Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates scoring a run against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on May 28, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010990
  2. Marijuana extract sharply cuts seizures in severe form of epilepsy


    An oil derived from the marijuana plant sharply reduces violent seizures in young people suffering from a rare, severe form of epilepsy, according to a study published last week that gives more hope to parents who have been clamoring for access to the medication.

  3. 'I ain't fit to live': Police say Mississippi gunman kills 8


    BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — A man who got into an argument with his estranged wife and her family over his children was arrested Sunday in a house-to-house shooting rampage in rural Mississippi that left eight people dead, including his mother-in-law and a sheriff's deputy.

    People embrace Sunday outside the Bogue Chitto, Miss., house where eight people were killed during a shooting rampage Saturday in Lincoln County, Miss.
  4. Kushner's Russia ties questioned as Trump cites media 'lies'


    WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats on Sunday demanded to hear directly from top White House adviser Jared Kushner over allegations of proposed secret back-channel communications with Russia, saying the security clearance of President Donald Trump's son-in-law may need to be revoked.

  5. Muslims thankful for support after rant, deadly attack


    PORTLAND, Ore. — Muslims in Portland, Ore., thanked the community for its support and said they were raising money for the families of two men who were killed when they came to the defense of two young women — one wearing a hijab — who were targeted by an anti-Muslim rant.

    Jeremy Christian is accused of killing 2 men who stepped in as he berated two women.