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A special woman's ministry work in South Hill hospital inspires healing throughout the community

VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital’s Joanne Bedford brings unbelievable joy through prayer, song and her warm personality.

Woman smiling with flowers behind her, words Unbelievable joy in graphic Joanne Bedford fills each room she enters with joy at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital in South Hill, Virginia. (Sherilyn Smail, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

By Pete Woody

Spend any time with Joanne Bedford at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (CMH) and you’ll notice she has a warm greeting and kind word for every person she interacts with. Bedford, the hospital's chaplain, seems to excel at connecting with patients, putting them at ease and building instant rapport through a quick chat, a story or a shared prayer. And, more often than not, a song.

Every time she enters a room, Bedford wants a patient to know they’re special and they’re being cared for in the best way possible. You’ll see that it’s not just her job, but her calling.

“I’ve always wanted to help folks," Bedford explains.

I truly believe that joy is what gets us up in the morning.
Joy is what pushes us through days that are difficult. Joy is also infectious.

Joanne Bedford, chaplain of VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital

You’ll also notice her same approach with CMH team members and, unprompted, they will offer up comments like: “She’s truly a blessing to every patient and staff member” or “She always has a good word to offer.”

Whether it’s serving as a sounding board for a colleague or reassuring a patient that they aren’t alone even in hard times, she strives to connect people to what matters to them.

In short, wherever she goes, one thing is sure to follow: Unbelievable joy.

“I truly believe that joy is what gets us up in the morning” Bedford says of her approach. “Joy is what pushes us through days that are difficult. Joy is also infectious.”

And while joy may not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking about a challenging diagnosis, an extended hospital stay or the loss of a loved one, an understanding of what brings someone joy has helped Bedford play an important role in the care provided at CMH and the connections she’s built in South Hill, where the hospital is located.

(Robin McLeod, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Searching for a greater purpose

What success might look like to a college graduate is going into the corporate world, making money and retiring near the beach. When Bedford worked in banking and accounting, she felt a strong nagging sense that she was meant to do something else.

“It just never was satisfying and never offered purpose,” Bedford said. "I was just on autopilot."

For 20 years, she longed for more. Luckily, there were also familial connections with ministry that helped guide her along the path.

“I come from a line of very strong women of faith, great grandmother, grandmother and mother. My mother entered into ministry after her children were grown and off in college,” Bedford said, recalling her mother’s missionary trips around the world to places like Zimbabwe, Cuba and Brazil.

“When I began to come into ministry and recognized chaplaincy as my call, my authentic self was reborn,” Bedford added. “This, I think, has eternal reward. This is what matters.”

Woman looking at a cross with a stained glass in the window

After working in banking and accounting for two decades, Joanne Bedford felt a pull to become a chaplain. (Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

The path to finding family and community in South Hill

Bedford’s ministry work started as a chaplain assistant and then chaplain with the Atlanta Police Department. Then she moved to Baltimore, where she worked in hospice care for the Greater Baltimore Medical Center and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It was also where she was living when she married her husband, Adrian Boyd. The childhood sweethearts from Amityville, New York, lost touch as teenagers when his family moved away. After not seeing each other for 36 years, they reunited, eventually married and decided to move back to his family’s hometown of Bracey, Virginia, about 15 miles from South Hill.

Wanting to stay in chaplaincy, Bedford learned there was an opening for a chaplain at CMH and reached out about her interest in the job. CMH was even more interested. After that, things moved quickly.

“I probably interviewed one week and was offered [the position] the next week,” Bedford said. “This is how we landed here. My husband’s family is from here. This was his home, and he has a lot of family here. And it’s been a blessing.”

And as much joy as Bedford feels about being part of the CMH community, the people here may feel even better about it.

“Joanne is remarkable in my opinion. And I’ve seen many chaplains, and they’ve all been excellent. But Joanne exudes a kindness, a joy, empathy, sympathy, that is unusual,” said Jimmie Crowder, co-owner of Crowder-Hite-Crews Funeral Home and Crematory. “She can walk into a room, and immediately there’s a sense of peace and calm.”

Crowder has spent his life in South Hill. His role with the funeral home gave him a unique view of Bedford’s impact on patients and their families when celebrating a person’s life.

“She conducts a magnificent, healing, calming teaching experience as a preacher conducting a funeral,” Crowder said. “She fills a very important position.”

Crowder is also speaking from personal experience. When his wife was in hospice seven years ago, Joanne cared for her, and what she brought to his family while losing a loved one left an indelible mark on him.

“Little did I know that I would end up using her services and she would come to the home and visit. It’s very important because it’s a time of not being organized and it’s quite an experience to go through,” Crowder recalled. “And we were all saying it’s unbelievable joy, unbelievable care… I have personally and professionally experienced her joy.”

Woman and man speaking together

Joanne Bedford has built lasting connections within the South Hill community through her ministry work and the joy she shares with others. (Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

A ministry of inspiring healing

Bringing comfort in challenging times is something that fellow team members at CMH greatly appreciate too, according to Mary Hardin, MSN, RN, OCN, the hospital's chief nursing officer.

"Joanne has this way of being very honest, very truthful of what the trajectory is with her hospice background. She is able to take patients and families through the journey of death. And I've not encountered anyone quite like that,” Hardin said. “It takes away unsettledness and creates the joy of moving into the next life and she has that uncanny way to do that.”

Hardin says the ability to find comfort and joy amidst difficulties extends to team members as well, with Bedford happy to serve as counselor, therapist or comforter whenever it is needed.

“Routinely I would call her for help with having a quick prayer, a quick hand hold for team members that were struggling… she is always available,” Hardin explained. “She has this resilience about her that is just remarkable because she continues to shine that light.”

Bedford doesn’t just see joy as bringing humor or making someone laugh. Rather, it’s a critical part of the process of healing, of inspiring people and communities to stay healthy.

“When we can help to reignite joy and help folks to connect back to the things that are important to them like their faith, their family, their friends, those are things that not only bring comfort, but also bring strength and help people to cope,” Bedford said. “When we start to move towards joy… that helps to transition from just being ill and overtaken by illness, to then overtake the illness.”

And one thing that has always helped Bedford move towards joy is singing. In the hallways, with a patient in their room, at a nursing awards ceremony or in a CMH talent show, if someone mentions a lyric or line from a song, she’s going right into it. The element of surprise is also great, she says.

“I believe music is so therapeutic. Music has the ability to transcend languages, transcend traditions or faith,” Bedford explains, saying a song can help transport a patient from their current mindset to a place of hope or strength.

Woman speaks with patient both are smiling

Joanne Bedford is known for walking into a patient's room with a smile and a song, cheering up those who may be dealing with major challenges or are coping with a difficult diagnosis. (Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

An unbelievable superpower

When Bedford reflects on guidance she received from the strong women of faith in her family, her mother and grandmother in particular, she recalls that they often counseled her to be glad to have choices and to be able to choose what she wanted to do.

She’s glad she chose to leave her previous career to pursue ministry, and glad that led her to South Hill and CMH. And this will probably come as no surprise, but she’ll continue to choose joy as a reason to keep going and inspire others, in the hospital and throughout her community.

“I feel like that’s my strength,” she says of joy. “It’s my superpower.”

Fortunately, Bedford is happy to tap into that superpower by providing some guidance everyone can use to apply joy as a resource in any walk of life:

“At the end of the day, what’s important in your soul, what’s important in your spiritual heart, those are the things that are going to be everlasting. Where did you feel most important? Where did you feel like you made the most impact? Those are the things that, as I say, beyond any faith traditions, any religions, anything like that, that’s what connects us to one another. It’s our humanness,” Bedford said. “And that’s when we are finding our purpose and what is meaningful to us. That’s when we also find our joy.”