Dodie Blessing was a leader in the local veteran community and a retired Roseburg Veterans Affairs Medical Center nurse who dedicated her life to helping others. Friends said she was full of compassion, but also wouldn’t back down from a fight, especially when it came to championing the rights of local veterans. In 2016, she was recognized for her many years of service with the Outstanding Oregon Women Veterans of the Year award.
Blessing died in her sleep Wednesday night. She was 80.
Fellow veteran Dona Brewer said Blessing was “a pillar among veterans.”
Blessing’s death came as a shock to friends. Blessing was in the process of moving from Coquille to Lakeside, she regularly exercised with friends, and she was active in veterans issues right up to the end of her life. Just 12 days ago she read Flanders Field at the Memorial Day ceremony in Roseburg. In February, she was honored as a member of the Four Chaplains Legion of Honor.
“She was very compassionate. Of course she was a nurse, and I think that’s where it stems from. She cared about people, but she was no pushover either,” Brewer said. “She was funny, extremely funny. We had a lot of good times together.”
Blessing formed long, close friendships.
“When you were lucky enough to be her friend, you were her friend for life,” Brewer said.
Blessing was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps in 1960. She told The News-Review in 2016 that she joined the Navy because she wanted to see the world.
She trained in Rhode Island and then was stationed at Naval Hospital Oakland in California, where she was a ward nurse. She resigned her commission in 1962 after marrying Dick Blessing, who also served in the Navy.
At the time Dodie Blessing resigned, she was a lieutenant junior grade. She followed her husband to San Diego.
Later, Blessing worked with developmentally disabled patients and then trained in radiation technology.
She moved to Elkton in the 1980s and joined the Community Cancer Center as a radiology tech. After that, she worked one year at Mercy Medical Center, and then signed on at the VA.
During her service as a VA nurse, Blessing took a special interest in helping women veterans. She coordinated specialty care and transportation for many of the women and even drove patients up to the Portland VA. Eventually, she was appointed women veterans’ coordinator.
Blessing was the second president of the Douglas County Veterans Forum, which represents veterans from 17 local organizations representing about 5,000 veterans. To date, she’s been the forum’s only woman president. She fought hard against what many veterans believed were plans to reduce the Roseburg VA from a hospital to a clinic.
She was an early leader in the local chapter of the American Women Veterans Association, and helped organize the annual Veterans Day Parade.
Blessing’s concerns encompassed non-veterans as well. She created the nonprofit Douglas County Cancer Services in 1989. The organization provides everything from lodging and transportation to wigs and prosthetics for cancer patients. And she volunteered as a nurse at Camp Millennium, a camp for children with cancer.
Jim Little, also a past Douglas County Veterans Forum president, said Blessing always took the “high road.” During the fight to save the VA hospital, she always encouraged people not to hurt others’ feelings.
Little recalled that when Blessing was beginning to leave the Memorial Day picnic a few days ago, a homeless man with a little dog began to speak with her.
“Dodie was very kind to him and afterward she emailed me asking what I thought of the encounter,” Little said. “She was worried about him and hoped he was OK.”
Little said Blessing touched many people in her life. He said he’s heartbroken at her death.
“What a huge loss for the veteran community and Douglas County,” he said.