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The whole enchilada
This story has been updated from its original version.
It was the real deal; everyone realized that. The emergency medical service personnel knew it, the neighbors knew it and the elderly woman who'd previously had few medical problems knew it.
West Linn maven Alice Richmond was having a stroke.
"I drove to Home Depot to get a faucet but I drove home after I realized I didn't measure where it was supposed to go," recalled Richmond last week. "After I drove inside the garage I reached to open the door but my hand was dead."
Richmond found her hand where she left it, at the end of her arm. But she was blindsided by the stroke symptom, having only been familiar with the stroke indicators of vision problems, numbness and headaches — none of which she had.
She called a friend, who called a neighbor, who called 911.
"I must have been half-dead because when she told me she was calling an ambulance, I said OK," said Richmond.
After 88 years of good health and fierce independence, she was on her way to a nearly two-week hospital stay, major surgery and a lesson in accepting help.
A community booster
Richmond moved to West Linn more than 50 years ago and threw herself into raising her family and becoming a part of the community.
"I know not everyone understands where she's coming from," says Julie Parrish, a member of Richmond's surrogate family in West Linn (Richmond has no blood family living nearby). "But there's not one person who loves West Linn more than her. So many things we love about the city, she had a hand making it possible."
Indeed, Richmond started the concert series that morphed into Music in the Park. She sat on the Planning Commission, conceived and organizes the annual July 4th fireworks display as well as the Oktoberfest every fall. And up until August she zealously attended most official City meetings, asking the hard questions and never hesitating to share her thoughts.
Parrish, who serves as legislative representative for Oregon House District 37, took a step back from her re-election campaign and — along with her family — helped form a "community care team" along with Carol Koran, Richmond's neighbor, and others.
"Alice had a parade of traffic in the hospital," recalls Parrish. "We tried to make sure someone was always with her."
Not only did Richmond's friends and West Linn "family" flood her with visitors and bring her meals in the hospital, but after her surgery on two blocked arteries and hearing her doctors share the challenges she'd likely encounter when she was discharged, they kicked into overdrive.
"We found out there was a lot of deferred maintenance, both on Alice and on Alice's house" says Parrish. Richmond spent her first few weeks at Parrish's house, where — due to remodeling already underway in their basement — one Parrish son gave up his room for Richmond's recovery.
Meanwhile Mark Parrish and Koran's family recruited another local veteran, Tom Waggoner, to help coordinate work on Richmond's 35-year-old home on six acres needed in order to increase its safety so she could return home.
A work party of friends — including Mayor Russ Axelrod and several others from City Hall — mowed the acreage, trimmed trees and cut back shrubs crowding the foundation.
The inside was cleaned and the walls and shelves stripped of content to prepare for what they hoped would be a soul-lifting interior paint job. Gutters were cleaned, moss knocked off the roof and loose shingles nailed down.
Meanwhile, Julie Parrish coordinated a slew of appointments for Richmond as soon as she was released, including a long overdue vision exam and a dental appointment to fix a tooth broken when she was intubated for surgery.
Now two months post-stroke, Richmond is a model patient. She takes her medicine, keeps salt out of her favorite Armenian dishes (loaded them up with parsley instead), lets friends drive her around and does her best to avoid stress and worry.
"God will call me soon enough but I don't plan on making it easy for Him," says Richmond. Indeed, when medical personnel asked her what kind of measures she wanted them to take should she stop breathing or her heart stop beating, Richmond told them: "I want the whole enchilada. You do everything you need to do."
Zest for life is a trait those familiar with Richmond are well acquainted with. During her childhood in Nazi-occupied France, while her mother bought meat on the black market for Resistance fighters and Allied scout troops and her father, a shoe designer, made shoes with secret compartments in the sole for valuables, Richmond and her siblings viewed the war as a major childhood adventure.
She taught her Armenian mother, who was raised in a well-to-do family that didn't believe in educating daughters, to write her name, in case she was ever detained by the Nazis and the family needed to find her.
Richmond and her siblings roamed the streets of Marseille looking for adventure and mostly avoiding trouble.
In 1949, with the help of sponsors in New York City, she immigrated to the United States to attend college and study fashion. Within 10 years the pint-sized Frenchwoman entered a heady new world: working in a high-fashion Manhattan design house, becoming an American citizen and marrying a naval officer who was not only an American but an American Indian.
Pendleton Woolen Mills, which was launching a ladies fashion line, enticed Richmond to Oregon and once again she was catapulted to a whole new world.
Starting over in West Linn
"Her dad lived to be 101," says Parrish, "so we expect her to be around awhile." Regarding Richmond's outspokeness and direct manner, Parrish says: "Her heart's always in the right place and in her heart she thinks she knows what's best for West Linn."
Not long after her discharge from the hospital, representatives from Tualatin Fire and Rescue's new Station 55 delighted her by driving their new over-long tiller truck to her house to personally install a new address marker.
"When they responded to the call at Alice's house, they noticed the number at her driveway was hard to see," explains TVFR spokesman Stefan Myers. "And when seconds count, the sooner we arrive the better outcome we have."
West Linn first responders have a special place in their heart for Richmond, who bakes them treats, supports all their causes and sings their praises. When Station 55 dedicated its new building in early October, firefighters presented her with a personalized crew jacket.
"Alice came to the Sept. 11 event and we noticed she didn't have a warm jacket; she was bundled in a blanket," says Myers. "(The jacket) was a way to give back to her after she's given so much to us.
The road to recovery
How life will change for West Linn's own Tasmanian Devil is uncertain. Richmond is hesitant to get behind the wheel of her distinctive '70s green BMW — which Parrish insists has "something like 1.5 million miles on it"— since that is where her stroke occured but her "care team" is committed to driving her where she needs to go.
"I don't think she'll stop paying attention to what's happening in the community but I don't know what that looks like," says Parrish regarding Richmond's commitment to stepping back from politics.
This health scare has reminded Richmond of something her father used to tell her: "If you stop to kick at every rock in your path all that happens is you stub your toe." She's committed to keeping up with her fireworks event because she has an experienced team to help her but she doesn't plan to continue with the Oktoberfest event, for which she shouldered more responsibility.
Richmond plans to continue to visit her friends at City Hall, the police station and the fire stations and next on her agenda is her epic pre-Christmas baklava making session.
Richmond gushes about her dedicated friends-turned-family, the firefighters who took her to the hospital and her doctors but she feels bad about how much time they've given to care for her.
"It was hard for her; she worried she was a burden," says Parrish. "Giving up her independence was so hard. We all need somebody at times and fortunately Alice has a lot of somebodies. Feeling like you can sit in the back of the boat and have someone row for her, that was hard for her."
It may seem like Richmond adopted West Linn when she arrived on its doorstep more than 50 years ago with a thick French accent and a briefcase full of plaid wool samples, but really West Linn has adopted her.
Editor's note: The original version of this story mistated how Alice Richmond's tooth was broken; it was broken when her airway was intubated for surgery.
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