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Pharmacist Madeline Acquilano draws a syringe of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn., Wednesday, March 3, 2021. The first shipments of the vaccine arrived at the hospital this morning. Cities and states are rapidly expanding access to vaccines as the nation races to head off a resurgence in coronavirus infections and reopen schools and businesses battered by the pandemic. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)

Her name was Claudine.

They met dancing.

"I danced with her all night and then escorted to her car as all gentlemen should," Bob Beaver said.

Recently, I asked readers to send in stories of their pandemic experience. What will they remember? Who made a difference?

Bob — and others here today — responded.

He wrote about his wife.

"The love of my life," he said.

Claudine Pantelias grew up in Orleans, France; she moved to Chattanooga in 1992, opening Claudine's Boutique, joining the Social French Club and, apparently, out-putting everyone in Soddy-Daisy.

"Claudine played golf as an amateur with the PGA tour," Bob said.

Her life story reads like an adventure novel: she escaped Madagascar during a revolution, parachuted out of a plane, saved her children's life, cooked fine French cuisine, danced backwards across the Gatlinburg Skybridge.

A few years ago, she developed a blood disorder.

Last December, she tested positive for COVID-19.

"Her body was unable to survive the virus," Bob said.

On Jan. 19, 2021, Claudine, 76, took her last breath, one of 469 locally to die from COVID-19.

"We were together forevermore," Bob said.

***

Carla Upchurch worked as an oncology nurse for nearly 50 years.

Finally, in 2020, she retired.

Then, the phone rang.

Help us.

"In 2021, she answered the call from Hamilton County for nurses to help administer the vaccine," said her friend, Carol Hobbs.

Carla could have stayed retired. Could have stayed safe.

"Despite worries for her own safety, she is giving her time to help stop this pandemic and its resultant suffering," Hobbs said.

One day, Carla told her friend about the best part of coming out of retirement.

"Seeing the happy faces on people who have been confined and worried for so long," Hobbs recalls.

***

When asked who he wanted to honor, George Patten immediately had an answer.

"The St. Peter's School administration and faculty," he said.

Schools have been a center of decisions and indecisions: Stay in person? Go online? What is the risk to students? And adults?

"St. Peter's established a protocol for safe classrooms last summer, and they committed to opening their school in the face of many uncertainties. They meet the parents daily in the morning and afternoon in the car line and then met with the students to teach and encourage them," he said. "While many of the normal activities have been altered, lunches are held in the classrooms, class plays have been suspended for the public and recess is done in a socially distanced manner. The spirit of learning and teaching continues."

Teaching is a job unlike any other. Especially now.

"The great work that these teachers do is remarkable," Patten continued. "There were the teachers doing a job that many have refused. They should be congratulated for their commitment."

***

It was April.

The ambulance rushed John Ebb Stewart, who'd suffered a massive stroke, to the hospital.

His wife, Mary Ann, was not allowed to go with him.

"It was a lonely time," she said. "We had no children, but I did have the comfort of many relatives and friends."

Enter Beth and Maddie.

Beth is the daughter of friends. Mary Ann watched her grow up. At church. Her wedding. Years passed until the phone rang.

It was Beth.

Can I help?

Yes, said Mary Ann. Please.

Beth had an idea.

Her friend Maddie works at Erlanger.

She just happened to be John's nurse.

"I see it as a miracle," said Mary Ann.

On duty, Maddie would call and FaceTime, letting Mary Ann see her beloved husband. They'd met in 1967 in Sunday school at First-Centenary Methodist. In 2019, they celebrated 50 years of marriage. They traveled, gardened, cheered the Mocs.

Sadly, on April 8, 2020, John died, four days after his stroke.

The phone rang again. It was Beth. How can I help?

The two wrote the obituary together.

"Have faith in the younger generation," Mary Ann said. "It was the younger generation that came to my aid in this life-ending situation with love and compassion."

***

Christmas Eve, my son woke up with a fever. In the pediatrician's parking lot, a nurse nose-swabbed him, then, 10 minutes later, his doctor — masked, gowned, 15 feet away — held up the chart with his COVID-19 results.

"Positive," Dr. Jane Jones said. "Really, really positive."

I was frightened.

But less so because of her.

For the last 15 years, Jane has been our children's doctor. She has stitched, cultured, X-rayed, vaccinated, advised, suggested, comforted, consoled, encouraged and, most of all, loved. Never rushed, always balanced, she is a true physician: fiercely loving and loyal, brilliant and kind.

On March 31, Jones is retiring.

"I've been truly so lucky and honored," she said.

To have someone you trust with the well-being of your children?

We are the lucky ones.

Thank you, Jane, so very, very much.

David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at dcook@timesfreepress.com.

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