More than 7,000 people have died in Massachusetts from COVID-19. These lives lost are much more than a number — they're individuals with fascinating lives and people who loved them. We're remembering and sharing the stories of some of the people we have lost in a series titled "Lives Remembered."
Sharon High School English teacher Lisa Jolicoeur used to talk books with her Aunt Dolores, whom she adored. Jolicoeur recalled that they often discussed her aunt’s favorite book, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” It's the story of a poor adolescent girl named Francie, who encounters adversity and struggles to succeed.
“And she said, 'I see myself as Francie. I always wanted more. I always wanted to be able to do things that people take for granted that I couldn't do',” Jolicoeur said.
Like Francie, Dolores Woodford, who died from COVID-19 on April 7 at age 83, was resilient. Friends and family said she was as tough as she was caring. And she never stopped working. The Easton, Massachusetts resident built a nursing career that spanned 60 years.
“She was just an amazing communicator, an amazing caregiver, and she loved to teach,” said Dr. Michael Dern, family physician with Signature Health in Brockton, who worked with Woodford for many years.
Dern said not only did Woodford focus on her patients, but she also mentored younger, less experienced nurses, taking them under her wing.
“It was just, labor of love. I mean, I can't think of any other way. It helped define who she was being a caregiver,” Dern said.
Growing up, she was Dolores McBride. She lived in a Roxbury housing project with her mother, twin brother and three other siblings. Money was tight and got tighter after her father died, prompting her to drop out of Jamaica Plain high school so she could help her family financially.
But she went on to get her GED. And in 1958, Woodford received a grant to attend the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital School of Practical Nursing. Even when she was in school, her niece said Woodford continued to care for her family.
“She said, 'They gave us a $25 a week living allowance,' and she gave $20 of it to our mother," Jolicoeur said. "And then she lived for $5 a week on food. She fixed her nylons, you know, all the little things we take for granted. And she was so determined to finish that school, that was her ticket for a better life.”
Once she earned her practical nursing license, family and friends said Woodford worked hard and never quit. She held nursing jobs at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton and New England Eye Health in Weymouth. Most recently, she worked a few days a week at Rheumatology Consultants in Brockton.
She was married to the late Cliff Woodford, and they had two children, a son, Mark Woodford, and a daughter, Lynn O’Brien.
She was generous and smart with her money, O'Brien remembers.
“We really didn't grow up having a lot of money. And we sat down with them, my parents, and we said, 'You know, we just want to go off and we're going to get married.' And [my mom] said, 'Oh, no, you're not just getting married.' So, she had been saving money so I could have a wedding.”
A few years ago, Woodford tried to retire and move to Florida, but it didn’t last. She missed nursing, her grandkids and life in Massachusetts.
On March 21, she came down with a cold. Her cough persisted.
She was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized on March 30, then moved onto a ventilator. Her family doesn't know if she contracted COVID-19 at work, at the apartment complex where she lived or elsewhere.
But like the thousands of others lost to the pandemic across the state, she died without her loved ones by her side — they were not allowed to be with her when she was sick.
Woodford's sister, Bernice "Bunnie" Krueger, thought she would beat coronavirus because she was so strong and healthy.
“Honestly, I thought she would make it. I really did,” she said. "It's just, it's inconceivable to me that a virus would take her down."
Regina Patrick, Woodford's friend and fellow nurse at Rheumatology Consultants, reminisced about her colleague. She called her a "second mother," and she said she admired Woodford's dedication to her profession.
“She always said, 'Regina, I will not stop until the day I die. I want to work until the day I die.' One thing that gives me peace a little, is that she was able to do that,” Patrick said.
The first annual nursing scholarship in Woodford's name was awarded this week at South Eastern Regional High School in Easton, to four students who face economic challenges. Woodford's family hopes the recipients will exhibit the same grit and determination as she did.
Correction: This article has been updated to correct the year Dolores Woodford graduated from the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital School of Practical Nursing. It was 1958.