Local Heros

This series profiles folks who, often through quiet efforts, make a difference in the lives of Central Virginians. They all deserve recognition, and choosing just a few was VERY difficult.  Here are their inspiring stories:

A doctor with acute devotion to the elderly
“The patients I really love best are over 85; anything above 75 is OK,” Dr. Diane Snustad quipped.  Dr. Snustad is the Claude Moore chairwoman of geriatrics at the University of Virginia and twice was named to “Best Doctors in America.”  “I have never met a doctor as dedicated to her patients as Diane is,” wrote her friend, Barbara Woodsmall, of Albemarle County. “She truly loves her patients as much as they love her.”

Snustad also volunteers at the Charlottesville Free Clinic once a month. And she travels to Southwestern Virginia to work as part of the Remote Area Medical Clinic. When she retires, she said, she’ll do mo  Her husband, Paul Humphreys, wrote that it’s her combination of a distinguished medical career and dedication to volunteerism that sets her apart.

“It’s hard for me to go anywhere in Charlottesville with Diane without someone approaching us and thanking Diane in glowing terms for the care she gave one or both parents,” he wrote. “Taking care of the elderly requires an unusual combination of medical expertise, good humor, energy and empathy.”


A retired teacher battling for a cause larger than herself

When Marty Whitlow felt the sharp stab in her side, she thought she’d pulled a muscle trying the rowing machine at her gym.  As she tried to fight off the pain, it intensified. Finally, when she had trouble standing, she decided to see a doctor.  She was diagnosed with an advanced stage of ovarian cancer. It already had spread to her abdomen. The pain stemmed from a tumor pressing on a nerve.  Three years later, Whitlow, 60, of Earlysville, is battling for a cause larger than herself.  Marty Whitlow gave up teaching to focus on her advocacy work and volunteer at the University of Virginia’s Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center.

The original goal of the Marty Whitlow Ovarian Cancer Research Fund was to raise $25,000 in five years to fund research at UVa.  After just two years of dances, house concerts and other fundraising activities, the effort has raised almost $70,000.

‘Heart of gold’ propels hospice volunteer

Dick Fontaine sat on a ski lift in Park City, Utah, next to a young boy with no legs.  On the ride up the mountain, the boy placed his hand on Fontaine’s shoulder and said, “This is the best day of my life. I don’t have any legs, and we’re skiing on this bluebird day. Thank you.”  That moment changed Fontaine, who used to make his living running big companies across the country. He came away, he said, with a new perspective on life, volunteerism and the present.  Before that moment, Fontaine had been prone to think the big picture. His mindset had been to take definite steps to reach set goals. Working with one child, he thought, was nice, but he could be doing more.

As well as volunteering with hospice patients, Fontaine is a member of the hospice’s board of directors. In that role, Fontaine the business man can shine.  “What he gives is a heart of gold, and is a person who serves to inspire all of us,” said Dr. Jim Avery, CEO of Hospice of the Piedmont. “At the same time, here is a man who is very successful in business, has a mind for numbers and can keep all of us on track.”


An urge to help turns into a growing nonprofit

On a recent Tuesday night, dozens of people sat in parked cars behind an Albemarle County warehouse, waiting for the doors to open.  As the hour approached, a crew inside worked speedily to prepare the goods: chili, soup, canned fruit and vegetables, pasta, bread, cereal, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti sauce and more groceries that would be given out to Central Virginia’s needy.

“Doors are opening!” yelled Jerry Denney, the driving force behind the Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry.  What started in 2004 as a small operation has grown into a bustling enterprise serving nearly 12,000 families.

With the new space, shelving, refrigerator, freezer and forklift, the food pantry now has the capacity to move close to 400 tons of food per year, a far cry from what was possible in the tiny space at Jackson-Via.  Denney, a financial adviser with Wells Fargo, was at the center of that evolution.   “Jerry was leading the way with his decision to say, ‘This is where we need to be,’” said Allison.  With the expansion, the food pantry is the largest partner of the local Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, which provides much of the food, along with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Denney, 51, says he’s always felt an urge to help those who are struggling. Though some might be troubled by the sight of people living in tents out in the woods, Denney is the type who will approach to see if there’s anything he can do.  “Earlier, I felt just a little hungry, but nothing compared to what somebody else might feel who doesn’t have access to food,” Denney said. “Helping people with basic needs has just always been important to me.”

On an average week, Denney puts in about 12 hours of work for the food pantry. On heavy weeks, he puts in 40 to 50.

Read more about outstanding local givers at http://www.dailyprogress.com



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