The hat and shoes of a WWII nurse.

National Nurses week begins on May 6, the day that Florence Nightingale, founder of professional nursing, went from England to the Crimean War as a nurse in 1853, and became “the lady with the lamp.” The commemoration ends on her birthday, May 12.  During these few days each year we acknowledge the excellence and dedication of those who choose the nursing profession. 

I grew up surrounded by nurses in a nursing home in Old Mystic, CT that my family owned and operated in the 1950s. My mother, Estella Whipple, trained to be a Registered Nurse at Rhode Island School of Nursing in the early 1940s, and became the go-to person for many emergencies around town – cuts, burns, broken bones, head injuries, and even emotional problems. I remember my mother rushing from the bedside of an elderly resident to clean and dress someone’s bloody wound after an accident down the street. The injured would show up at the nursing home as they do today at emergency rooms, often waiting for her in the kitchen so they wouldn’t alarm the residents. Compensation for her services was the occasional basket of eggs or vegetables on the back step. Eventually, Dr. Ryley or Dr. Fowler would arrive from Mystic for those requiring bone-setting or medication. Watching my mother and her nurse colleagues in action, day after day, offered me firsthand knowledge that nurses were the original first responders, and also unsung heroines.

When my parents opened a modern, state-of-the-art nursing facility in 1967 (Mystic Manor) on High Street in Mystic they also welcomed a new generation of nurses. And in 1971, an extraordinary nurse, Janeen Porter, arrived in Mystic with her husband, Naval officer Oliver Porter, and their five children. Janeen had graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 1957 and honed her skills in Public Health nursing serving an internship in the struggling neighborhoods of Detroit.  

Janeen & Oliver Porter,  Newport, RI circa 1960.

Oliver and Janeen met at age 14 when his family moved to Standish, MI: “She was the quiet girl with long braids sitting in front of me in 8th grade. Even back then I knew she was something special. Smart and compassionate towards people.”

They dated through high school and college and married on June 21, 1957, deciding early in their relationship that they would both have careers as well as a family. Janeen’s nursing degree was the best match for Oliver’s career in the Navy. He chose to be a line officer so that he would be stationed on shore and available to help with their growing family. As they moved every 3 – 4 years around the country, Janeen left her mark, working as a nurse in hospitals and as a caring, self-effacing volunteer, all about others, in both the local and the navy community. 

When she worked as nurse-in-charge at Mystic Manor  from 1971 – 1973, I remember my mother’s accolades about Janeen’s nursing skills, her excellent care of the residents, and her ability to work in friendly collaboration with the entire staff. She was a multi-talented, multi-tasker with a keen interest in people’s life stories. My mother believed that providers of long-term care became a family for its residents – even encouraging staff to bring their children to work with them.  Janeen’s children describe fond memories of eating ice cream and watching TV with residents during occasional visits while their mom was on duty.

Janeen with three of her five children in front of the former Mystic Manor, 1973.

From 1974 – 1979, Janeen pursued her passion to work in public health by becoming a staff nurse for Groton Public Health Service. In 1980, after completing a master’s degree in public health administration, she served as their clinical supervisor until 1986. Throughout those years she was an active member of the Noank Baptist Church, serving on the board of Christian Education and as a board member of the Noank Baptist Group Homes. Her efforts resulted in the establishment of group homes for children in need in both Noank and Mystic, and touched many other projects impacting health in the community. No job was too big – or small. She was the one who most frequently provided coffee and fellowship in the Parlor of the church after Sunday morning services.

When Janeen died suddenly on May 21, 1986 at age fifty after a severe asthma attack, the entire community grieved, describing her as the “salt of the earth, and “all about the well-being of others.” Her family carried out her wishes to have all of her organs donated, and she is remembered today through the lives she touched as a parent, spouse, neighbor, community member and extraordinary caregiver. She was never in too much of a hurry to attend to the heart of her patients, as well as their maladies. Janeen demonstrated compassion and caring for others at home and in the workplace. Her positive attitude and excellence in the art of caring left a lasting legacy.

Janeen D. Porter, 1936 – 1986

Thank you, Janeen, and nurses everywhere – this week and every week – for all you do.