This was a tough woman.
Ms. Wagner was the dean of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire school of nursing during my college years. She was a woman of strength and dignity. Look at her photo, and then imagine her in 1986, having summoned a certain well-mulleted, pickup-truck-driving, roadie-dressing, night-shift-working male nursing student into her office simply to ask how things were going. She had concerns, you see (more implied than stated, but sometimes stated), that perhaps I wasn’t wholly focused on the art of nursing. In some ways she was correct. She wanted me to drop the jobs and focus on my studies, but I needed the money for tuition. Plus I liked alternating between assisting with surgery and wearing a Snoopy suit and roller skates. I always had the sense that we were fencing a bit. But I also remember how she blended firmness with respect. She really did care about me, and as her life demonstrated, she was profoundly dedicated to the art and practice of nursing.
As I type this I have just returned from her memorial service, and I am so glad I went. Thanks to those who eulogized Ms. Wagner (both during the service and in conversation after), my own decades-old memories (I visited with her a handful of times in the interim) have been given richer depth. One of the eulogists shared a powerful image of Ms. Wagner as a young woman of Nebraska, splitting firewood. The image was unexpected, but not at all surprising.
Today in honor of this strong woman, this compassionate educator, this nurse, sign me: Michael Perry, R.N., B.S.N.
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