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AARP to honor Dr. Bea Braun for a lifetime of serving others

Working with no pay, or not much, is a lifelong habit of Bea Braun's.

As a freshly graduated doctor and Catholic nun, in 1951, she treated Korean War refugees who had been pushed from their homes to the city of Pusan (now Busan), "as far south (on the Korean peninsula) as you can go without jumping into the ocean,'' she said.

The newcomers crowded into new slums, building makeshift houses with cardboard walls, and roofs shingled with the flattened beer cans discarded by GIs. They suffered from, among other diseases, typhoid, smallpox and tuberculosis.

Braun worked not only through the end of the war, in 1953, but stayed in South Korea about 15 more years, when the economically vibrant country we think of now was rural and very poor.

"Early on, I did a lot of climbing up and down hillsides, visiting people at home,'' said Braun, 88, who was awarded the Korean Medal of Honor for her work.

She returned to the United States, met her husband, Dick, left the order of nuns she'd been with for more than 20 years, and would eventually move to Hernando County and volunteer with AARP. At 3:15 p.m. Tuesday at the United Church of Christ in Spring Hill, she will receive the organization's 2009 Andrus Award to recognize her work.

We'll get to that. But first, consider that she spent part of her residency in psychiatry and all of her practice in Westchester County, N.Y.

If a picture comes to mind of a therapist raking in cash by helping suburbanites in, say, Scarsdale, pick through their various neuroses, well, that would be 100 percent wrong. "I ran a day treatment program for the severely and persistently mentally ill,'' she said. "That was at the time they had emptied out the state hospitals and put (former residents) on the streets.''

She had chosen psychiatry after returning from Korea because she figured at her age she should avoid a physically strenuous practice. She soon found out that "emotionally, it's the most difficult specialty,'' she said, and she thought she was ready to retire when she moved to Spring Hill in 1989.

She wasn't. And, having already passed up a chance to get rich in medicine, she took a pay cut.

Braun ran a statewide AARP program that helped retirees navigate the bureaucratic maze of Medicare and later convinced the state to take on this project, now called SHINE. She then served eight years on the AARP's national board of directors, and for three years was also a member of the board of MedPAC, a congressional advisory panel. In 2002, she backed off this schedule, but still hasn't kicked the habit of working for free. She runs the SHINE program in Hernando County and, two afternoons a week, treats patients at the county Health Department.

"What's truly impresses me is that at age 88 she is still providing psychiatric services to the homeless and the uninsured,'' said Tess Canga, the former national board president of AARP, who nominated Braun for the Andrus Award.

"She has just given a lifetime of service.''

AARP to honor Dr. Bea Braun for a lifetime of serving others 10/27/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 27, 2009 8:01pm]
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