If you live in the greater Washington area, chances are Janet Abernathy has directly or indirectly touched your life.
According to The Washington Hospital President and CEO Telford Thomas, “She volunteers her time, expertise and wisdom in an unassuming and humble manner without expectation of recognition or reward. Her efforts have impacted lives in many ways as a teacher, mentor and all‐around model of grace, compassion and understanding. She embodies the spirit of love for
mankind and the creator.”
Don’t call Janet Abernathy a humanitarian; she’ll dodge the title like a champion boxer ducking a right cross. “A lot of people do more than I do,” she protests, “People just ask me to do things, and I do them. I don’t know how to say ‘No.’ I just don’t.”
She has said “yes” to an astonishing number of charities, good causes, church activities and volunteer opportunities since she and her late husband, Abe Abernathy, moved to Washington in 1955.
Her lifetime tradition of helping began when she was a Girl Scout during World War II, volunteering at a hospital to help ease the nursing shortage. She enjoyed it enough to choose a career in nursing, where she met her husband, a doctor.
“Abe was always a volunteer. I guess he motivated me. He grew up in Georgia, and blacks weren’t getting a fair shake,” she recalls. He started the Abernathy Black Community Development Educational Fund (ABCDE) to help black students pursue higher education. “He couldn’t give full tuition,” she reminisces. “He invested what he could, and tried to give them books and fees.” Since her husband’s death, she serves on the Fund’s board and interviews all the scholarship applicants, making sure they understand the importance of higher education. “They’re high class students, nice kids. They have big dreams.”
Who has Janet Abernathy helped? Who hasn’t she helped? The Mental Health Association, Citizens Library, SPHS‐Connect, Washington Hospital Auxiliary, the CARE center, and the Visiting Nurse Association have all benefited from her energy. She was the United Way Volunteer of the Year and received the League of Women Voters Community Service Award, chaired Health‐O‐Rama, and helped raise awareness and money for disadvantaged women and children in Washington County. For forty‐two years Janet taught Sunday school at First Presbyterian Church of Washington, served as an Elder and routinely visited shut‐ins.
She currently volunteers at the United Way of Washington County, helping determine funding
amounts for health and human services organizations, and works with the Caring Tree program to provide Christmas gifts to needy families. She also served for ten years as a trustee of the Washington County Community Foundation.
Her three children, who have moved away from Washington, carry on the family tradition of
volunteering and helping others. Janet Abernathy says she’s not a humanitarian; she’s a housewife. “It wasn’t always easy or convenient, but I do like people. I grew up liking people.”
She has designated the $1,000 grant that accompanies the award to go to the ABCDE Fund.
By Dorothy Tecklenburg