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Former patient leaves generous contribution

by Reid Pierce Armstrong

Elizabeth B. “Tan” Sanders

The Rappahannock General Hospital Foundation recently announced it has received an unusually large donation from the family of a Middlesex woman.

Upon her death last fall, Elizabeth Barnhardt Sanders left a $250,000 endowment to the RGH Foundation to help provide medical care to those who can’t afford it.

Sanders grew up on the Barnhardt Duck Farm near Urbanna during the Great Depression.

“She knew a lot about hard times,” said her daughter, Judy Cathey, who now lives in Gloucester.

Sanders left home during World War II to attend The College of William and Mary, where she earned her teaching degree. She later moved to Florida with the military and there met her first husband. With him she raised three children. The two divorced after the children were grown.

In the 1970s, when Sanders was in her 50s, she caught the travel bug.

“She always had an adventuresome spirit,” Cathey said.

Sanders traveled around the world on a solo journey, visiting far removed places in third world countries such as Iran and Malaysia.

“She was fascinated by how people in other parts of the world handled the same problems as we have here,” Cathey said.

After returning from that trip, Sanders saw an ad looking for American teachers in Australia. The ad promised to reimburse all travel expenses for anyone who stayed two years. Sanders jumped on the opportunity and landed herself in Australia where she soon met her second husband.

In 1985, when her husband retired, the couple returned to Middlesex, eventually building a house in Deltaville.

For more than 15 years, that home was the hub for large family gatherings, Cathey said, and Sanders was the matriarch.

In her final year, Sanders was hospitalized in Kilmarnock frequently with various ailments and she always spoke highly of the fine care that she received there, said her son, John Melvin.

She died of heart problems at the age of 86.

“She was a fantastic mother and a neat woman,” Cathey said. “She always listened but never gave advice.”

Cathey said that while her mother had told the family of her plans to make the donation, she hadn’t told anyone else, not even the hospital.

“I bet they were pretty surprised,” she said.

Rappahannock General Hospital vice-president of development Tom Baker said it is one of the largest private donations the hospital has ever received.

“Mrs. Sanders’ gift is really an amazing act of kindness and we are grateful beyond words,” Baker said. “She had the foresight to think about impacting people less fortunate and set up an endowment to help them in perpetuity. Each year, we have a number of patients who cannot afford to pay for medical care, and we serve every person who comes in the door. That’s our mission as a community hospital.”

posted 07.25.2008

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