in memoriam: louise mccord
LOUISE McCORD never put herself first.
A born caretaker, she devoted three decades of her life to teaching second grade in the Taconic Hills Central School District in Craryville, NY. She was serious about her students' academic success and accordingly ran a tight ship. Her curriculum was challenging, but a child's good work never went unnoticed or unrewarded. Often, Louise brought sweets to school or treated her students to extra recess.
"She absolutely loved children," says Edie Rodegerdts, Louise's close friend, before offering a slight correction. "She said she didn't like them so much in diapers and she didn't care for them as teenagers, but she liked the ones in the middle."
Outside of the classroom, Louise turned the second love of her life - animals - into notable community service. She trained her beloved golden retrievers to be therapy dogs, and spent countless hours traveling with them to libraries, hospitals, veterans homes and special education classrooms. An early believer in the physical and mental benefits of pet therapy, Louise deployed her dogs to help mitigate the pain and lift the spirits of people who were struggling.
Once she retired, Louise dedicated her time to local nonprofit organizations in Berkshire and Columbia counties. She volunteered with Driving Miss Daisy, a transportation service for the elderly and disabled. She worked at food pantries, stuffed stockings at churches and dropped off frozen turkeys for soup kitchens during the holiday season. She took her dogs to one-on-one therapy sessions for children with cancer. With bad knees and a throbbing back, she managed to visit each of the 78 patient rooms at the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Philmont, NY.
And though she earned countless awards and citations through the years from the likes of the New York State Office for the Aging and Veterans of Foreign Wars, Louise did her best to stay out of the spotlight.
It was a quiet, purposeful life. And it might have been otherwise.
Louise McCord had, in fact, inherited substantial wealth. A decade ago, she pushed open the front door of Berkshire Taconic's former Great Barrington headquarters with a look of desperation on her face. She told the receptionist she had money that she didn't know what to do with.
Dressed that day in her uniform of faded jeans and an oversized, paw-printed sweatshirt, she did not appear to be a woman of means. Nor did she live that way, residing most of her adult life in a small house on her parents' land in Copake, NY. Her friend Edie notes that Louise shopped at tag sales and dollar stores, and kept nothing but tissues and a handful of dog biscuits in her pockets.
Ushered into a conference room, Louise unburdened herself to Berkshire Taconic President Jennifer Dowley. She wanted to give away her money to people who needed it most, but didn't know how to do it responsibly. The handwritten notes from that encounter are succinct: "She wants to do something locally, and give to everything: libraries, the rescue squad, the Humane Society, etc."
Jennifer explained that Berkshire Taconic was building a network of area funds, permanently endowed resources for nonprofits in specific geographic areas. Since Louise had strong ties to organizations in Columbia and Berkshire counties, she could help secure their futures and leave a lasting mark by directing resources to the Fund for Columbia County and South Berkshire County Fund. A map on the wall showing all the towns that would benefit helped seal the deal.
"I had to leave the room and get tissues for her," Jennifer recalls. "She wept with relief."
Shortly after this conversation, Louise designated a portion of her will to these area funds. In periodic check-ins over the years, she said she took comfort knowing that her estate would help the funds, in her words, "continue to do good work and respond to changing needs in the area" after her lifetime.
Last December, Louise died at age 76. At a packed memorial service hosted by the Berkshire Humane Society, friends and family gathered to remember her. Displayed around the room were the few photos Louise had reluctantly sat for and the many awards she had hidden away commending her community service. A circle formed, and people stepped forward to share memories of their good and generous friend.
Little did they - or anyone - know just how good and how generous. Even in death, Louise McCord found a way to put other people's needs ahead of her own, and in the years to come thousands of lives will be transformed by this astonishing final act.