By age 12, Linda Girard had a calling to be a nurse — which she fulfilled, spending over four decades of her life caring for the ill.
“That is all I ever wanted to be,” said Girard, explaining that her passion grew along with her energy to serve others. She tended to patients and oversaw nurses in critical-care units and behavioral-health hospitals. Her last job was working at what is now Banner-University Medical Center’s North Hills Clinic on Tucson’s northwest side. She retired in 2011.
Girard’s passion also led to volunteer work for 25 years for HIV/AIDS awareness and support, said Scott Blades, the executive director of the Tucson Interfaith HIV/AIDS Network, or TIHAN.
It began through her church ministry at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church with a group of women who cared for a parishioner who was “very ill with AIDS.” They prepared meals and took him to medical appointments and were there when he was in need. Her desire to help grew by working with Blades and others, becoming a founding board member of TIHAN in 1994.
Girard, 72, was selected to receive the Center for Health and Hope’s 2018 Leadership Award “for her extraordinary service as one of the most active and long-serving volunteers in Southern Arizona’s HIV community.”
The Center for Health and Hope, of Centennial, Colorado, a suburb of Denver, is a faith-based organization that supports and advocates for persons infected and affected by HIV and AIDS around the world. The center addresses the challenges of the pandemic through programs of awareness, education, prevention, care and treatment, according to its website.
According to the Arizona Department of Health Services 2017 HIV/AIDS Epidemiology Annual Report, 17,464 people in Arizona have HIV/AIDS. In Pima County, there are 2,739. Both figures are based on 2016 data.
The human immunodeficiency virus is a sexually transmitted infection that damages the immune system. The virus causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition. There is no cure.
“The discovery of new medications are helping people live better and longer,” said Girard. “There still is an epidemic. People are more susceptible to diseases because of the virus living in their body. They age more rapidly. HIV is hard on the body. Nothing is easy living with HIV,” she said.
The Rev. Donald E. Messer, executive director of the Center for Health and Hope, said in a news release about Girard: “Her compassion and competence combined with her altruistic spirit of generosity motivates others to follow her lead in reaching out to the marginalized and stigmatized.”
Girard will be honored with the center’s leadership award and her husband, Jim, will also be recognized “for their steadfast advocacy and support of equality and justice for LGBTQ people and people living with HIV,” said Messer.
She will be recognized locally at the Fourth Annual Swinging@AIDS Benefit Golf Tournament and Silent Auction March 24. The fundraiser also includes Swinging@Aids Benefit Concert on March 25. (See box.)
The goal for the tournament and concert is to raise $20,000 to support TIHAN and a school in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, said Blades.
“I was very surprised and pleased to be receiving the award,” said Girard, in a humble voice. “It’s really an honor to be recognized by the Center for Health and Hope.”
Even though she is retired, her calendar is full with volunteer work. TIHAN is just one of her efforts to make life better for those in need. She also is a co-chair of the Desert Southwest Conference HIV Caring Ministries for the United Methodist Church, and co-deans a camp, Strength for the Journey, a four-day retreat for women and men living with HIV/AIDS at Mingus Mountain in the Prescott National Forest.
The Philadelphia native, who grew up in New Jersey, learned to care for others by her loving parents — a mom who raised three children and a father who built transformers for electrical companies. They were proud when she received a bachelor’s of science in nursing from Widener University in 1970, and a master’s in nursing from the University of Delaware in 1981.
She worked in hospitals back East, including the Medical Center of Delaware, where she oversaw 550 beds in intensive-care units with patients receiving coronary, neurological and cancer treatments.
She moved to Tucson about 30 years ago and worked in psychiatric facilities, including Sonora Desert Hospital and Sonora Behavioral Health Hospital in Benson before she was hired by UMC as a nurse manager at an outpatient clinic.
After her retirement, Girard “stepped it up, spending more time on causes that she loved,” said Blades. “She is one of those kind of volunteers that you just wish there were more of in the world. She gives very generously.”