The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
“One of the truly spectacular things about the Red Cross, is that the Red Cross serves humanity,” says Frances Metheny the March volunteer of the month. “Last summer I was in Kenya and the hotel we stayed in donated all its profits to the Kenyan Red Cross. It’s everywhere, anywhere that people need help.”
Frances was a Red Cross donor, who became a volunteer three years ago when the Mid-South Chapter Executive Director Laura Vaughn asked her to join the Board of Directors. Quick to credit others, Frances says, “The personal connection makes a big difference, and Laura Vaughn is the best one in the world for that.” Laura convinced her that there are many moving pieces to the Red Cross organization and that there is a job for everyone.
“There are so many things the Red Cross does that we are just not aware of. It has always been there for all of us: fires, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the Red Cross shows up every time, and isn’t that astonishing! They are everywhere….It’s like when you get a new car and you look around and say, ‘I never noticed there were so many of these on the road.’ You start watching and you see, Oh! the Red Cross is coming to this or to that.” Frances has lived in Florida and southern Louisiana, and her late husband lived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, so she is keenly aware that disaster can strike anyone. “The next time something happens, it could be me, so ‘WE’’’, she emphasizes, “we’ve got to help.”
Frances grew up in Memphis, where her parents were involved in grass roots politics. “My Dad, I am proud to say, wrote the legislation with my uncle that mandated an education for every child in the state of Tennessee.” Her grandfather, who practiced medicine into his mid-eighties, took care of people “from cradle to grave.” “Memphis was wonderful, I adored it. We had five kids in our family. We lived most of the time on Walnut Grove between Saint Agnes and Christian Brothers: cars were in the carport, keys in the car, doors unlocked always. It was a great place to grow up…The Red Cross was very visible on Union Ave. when I was growing up here—swimming lessons and Stop, Drop, and Roll, those things we learned as children were presented by the Red Cross—I took swimming lessons from the Red Cross and my children took swimming lessons from the Red Cross. My daughter, who is forty now, jumped off the high dive during a Red Cross lesson when she was less than two years old, and I still have a Red Cross wooden kick board with my name and the swimming classes I passed painted on it. They were a part of your life, always. So those Red Cross things with kids are still important to me.”
Still, our Red Cross focuses on teaching children to change the community. Frances helps with the Red Cross Pillowcase Project, which teaches children fire safety, and through them, their parents. “That project makes a huge difference. The kids are the ones who make changes, Francis said,” She instructs children to “‘Tell your parents, I am precious to you. I am the only one like me who will ever be here.’ I went to catholic school for twelve years,” she laughs, “I can guilt.” But the notion that each child is precious is clearly no joke to her. She tells children, “If you smell smoke, then get out and stay out, do not go back in that house for any reason because you are precious.”
The fire problem in our community “is horrendous”, Frances says. “I like to go and do smoke detector installations. In many homes you see an ashtray full to the brim with cigarette butts, full, full, and now with all the electronics, you look at a plug and see six chords coming out of the wall. You know this is not a good idea.”
Frances’s career was in the risk-taking brokerage business before she retired and devoted her time to community service. Prior to her work in finance, she worked for the Welfare Department, where she saw that families lacked awareness of fire safety practices. “You go into homes and there are heating units built into the wall with drapes and things right up against them and the heat on. There is just not awareness in peoples’ minds,” she says.
She enjoys her work on the Red Cross board as well. Frances explains: “Every member of Board has different strengths. Many are well connected within their large organizations, like ServiceMaster or FedEx, so they bring the strengths of their organizations to the Red Cross, and some of us are well connected with other people and can get people to come in as volunteers or as donors.” Frances likes to be “the boots on the ground.” For example, she works to spread the word about the Red Cross Ready Rating program, a free awareness and education program, that rates local companies regarding their disaster readiness. Frances says, “As a business owner, as a church, as a company, you can go to an online program to rate your company for disaster readiness. The program makes it easy for smaller organizations to check their fire or tornado preparedness.”
In addition to her Red Cross work, Frances brings her passion and commitment to the Board of Directors at Shelby Residential and Vocational Services, a Memphis-based, non-profit, United Way partner agency that supports individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. “My youngest sister is fifty-three now. She has an intellectual disability, and I want to make sure there is always a place to help her.” Frances also has a daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, who live close by, and a son, daughter-in-law and their eleven-year daughter, who live in Phoenix. “Too far away”, she says.
Frances is an “enthusiastic tennis player” with a love for history and travel. She remembers a trip to Karen Blixen’s home in Kenya. “She had a huge impact on that country at the time, and then of course when the movie [Out of Africa] came out, but to imagine that it is really there and to be able to see it, to experience it!” Frances exclaims. In November, she will visit Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji, a trip she’s wanted to take since she was fourteen. “Everyone I’ve talked to says New Zealand is the more beautiful of the three, but the history of Australia is so rich . . . all of those things fascinate me. It’s embarrassing to say, but I’m a history geek,” she continues, Although her family is from England and Ireland, she feels a particular affinity toward the people of eastern Europe. A trip to Poland convinced her that “There is a little Polish woman in me, talking to me,” she laughs, and then seriously says, “They have gone through so much in their history…I am astonished at the heroism that the average people showed during the World War II period.”
Frances speaks succinctly and definitively, her vocabulary often includes, “yes” “absolutely” “exactly.” She insists that “There has to be some structure in life,” yet her inspiration comes from the everyday person, “who gets up, does their job with pride, does not look for accolades, takes care of their family and their friends. It’s all those people who do the best they can every day for everybody. Community is what makes this a great country.” She says we should do what the Tim McGraw song demands, ‘always be humble and kind, and when you get there help the next one behind.’ I think that’s our obligation,” she states.
Frances, herself, is one of those everyday people who make the ordinary wonderful. She believes that “you can’t see the eagles in the trees if you don’t look for them,” and most powerfully, she lives her vision to speak, to act, and to serve humanity in the fullness of what is possible, like the Red Cross, “everywhere, anywhere that people need help.”
Story and photo credit: Kathleen Bradley for the American Red Cross