A Life of Service

Sally Southard '77 has been a valued pediatric nurse in the Carilion system for 32 years. She also is chair of the Salem School Board.

By Mike Stevens

Spring 2012 Salem Magazine

To understand Sally Southard's passion for children, you have to know a little about her own childhood.

As the daughter of a banker and homemaker growing up in Annapolis, Maryland, Sally was diagnosed with diabetes at the age of 10.

"I was put in a hospital for a week when I was first diagnosed, and back then parents couldn't stay with their children," she says. "I was all by myself being stuck with needles and it was terrible. I realized then just how important nurses are."

So important, that she became one herself. 

After graduating from an all-girls school in Baltimore, Maryland, Southard ended up enrolling and graduating from Roanoke College. Like most high school students she was looking to put some distance between her hometown and her soon-to-be college town, plus she was also looking for a coed institution.

"There were only 50 girls in my class at this all-girls school, and I definitely wanted a coed college," she says. "Hal Johnston was the admissions recruiter for Roanoke College at the time and when he came to our school we thought if all the guys at Roanoke College were this cute - we are definitely going there."

She not only got a Bachelor's degree in Psychology from Roanoke, but she also found her future husband, Bob, on campus. They dated for a number of years after graduation while Sally commuted back and forth to Charlottesville pursuing a second Bachelor's degree in science and nursing from the University of Virginia. 

She earned that diploma with honors in 1980, immediately got a job as a registered nurse at what was then Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and a year later she and Bob married. They settled in Salem, and by 1983, Southard had her Master's degree from Virginia and was teaching future nurses at RMH. 

She's now been a valued Pediatric nurse in the Carilion system for 32 years helping young people overcome their fears, feel better and live more productive lives.

"Most children do get better and improve because they are very resilient, have such good outlooks and adapt so well," she says. "These days I want children to be able to do everything they can do in life despite their asthma or diabetes. Helping them achieve their goals is very rewarding
for me."

CAUSE AND EFFECT

Searching for that elusive cure for diabetes is also paramount in Sally's life. 

"I remember my doctor telling me when I was first diagnosed that there would be a cure during my lifetime," she says. "Well, I've had the disease 46 years now, and I'm still waiting along with a lot of other people."

Sally and her Mom, who herself was diagnosed with diabetes at age 35 and is now 83, would sterilize their glass syringes overnight back in the late 1960s and then take their powerful one-shot-a-day insulin injections the following morning.

The advancements in treating and monitoring the disease have come a long way since then, but when you get right down to it, the latest insulin pump technology pales in comparison to the words of comfort Southard shares from her own experiences with newly diagnosed patients.

She often delivers what are called "bags of hope" on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation to children who have just been diagnosed as Type 1 diabetics. Often the kids take the news much better than the parents, so Southard is there to ease their minds and let them know their children can live normal lives, be active and one day have healthy children of their own.

"When I see these parents later and they tell me how much just speaking to them about my experiences meant, it almost makes me cry," she says. "It's very rewarding just to help ease some of the fears parents have and let them know the efforts of JDRF are paying off."

WRAPPING FRUIT CAKES

You might say helping others is part of the fabric that makes Southard tick. Besides serving on the JDRF board of directors, Southard also is involved with the American Lung Association, the Virginia Asthma Coalition, the Salem Planning and Prevention Team, and CHIP - the Child Health Investment Partnership to mention a few.

Her dad was a member of the Civitan Club in Annapolis, and that meant the entire family was invested in the club during the Holidays - like it or not.

"Every Christmas we would line-up at our dining room table as a family and wrap all those Claxton fruit cakes that the club sold," she says.

Southard doesn't exactly rank that amongst her fondest childhood memories, but she readily admits that the annual fruitcake wrapping session was one of her first glimpses into the importance of giving back and volunteering.

"My dad was also a volunteer fireman and my mom was a member of the Junior League and to this day she still knits blankets for the Hospital Auxiliary," she says. "They never told me to help others, but they definitely showed me why it's important to be involved in the community."

Southard first joined the Salem School Board in 1996 when she was nominated by then Vice-Mayor, Alex Brown. By 1999, she was elevated to the position of Board Chair, a position she holds to this day. She has worked alongside a variety of individuals and personalities in the last 15 years ranging from Jerry Pace to William Sinkler.

"The mix has been really good over the years and I think we're a great example of why appointed, at-large school boards are so much better," she says. "We don't have to worry about how decisions we make now will affect us in a future election, and we always have the entire division and all of the students in mind when we make policy."

Southard will finish her sixth term on the Salem School Board in December of 2013. When that term expires she plans to step down and pass the baton.

"When I came on board the renovation of G.W. Carver was just being completed, now the young kindergarten students are learning on laptops and ipads, so a lot has happened in that span of time," she says. "It's time for some new blood, some fresh ideas and members who still have kids in the school division."

Southard's two children are both products of the Salem School Division. Rachel is a James Madison graduate, working as an occupational therapist in Richmond and Eric is a junior at JMU majoring in sports management. 

"When the kids were in school I could get the inside scoop," she jokes.

The scoop on Southard, when it comes to her legacy on the board, is that she'll be remembered as a consensus builder who always put the children of Salem first.

"We've never had any real issues or in-fighting," she says. "Even if people don't agree we eventually vote together because we're all here to do what's best for the children."

Even if that means wrapping fruit cakes.