The Central Arkansas American Heart Association will honor the life of one of its most ardent advocates at this year’s Heart Ball.
By Barrett Gay | Photography by Meredith Melody | Hair by Caitlin Neumann with Face Your Day Salon | Makeup by Cocoa Newton with Face Your Day Salon | Shot on location at Museum of Discovery
Just a few years ago, the American Heart Association adopted a simple yet staggeringly profound positioning statement: life is why. It reflects the organization’s enduring purpose for nearly a century of service.
Life is why the American Heart Association has invested more than $4.1 billion in cardiovascular and stroke research. Life is why the organization operates 155 local offices nationwide with more than 3,400 employees – all with a singular focus on improving cardiovascular health. Life is why the organization provides vital public health education and is the nation’s leader in CPR training.
And for Doris Washington, director of the National Water Management Center and mother of two, life is why she’s sharing her husband’s story.
In April of 2017, Oscar Washington passed away unexpectedly from an undetected heart condition. He was an ardent AHA ambassador – consequently Doris was, too. “Oscar really felt like it was a good organization, that they were organized, knew what they were doing and were making an impact,” she says.
Inspired by the organization’s important work, Oscar had graciously agreed to serve as the 2018 Heart Ball chairman. The Heart Ball, a signature fundraiser for AHA chapters across the nation, celebrates the organization’s mission fulfillment work – building healthier lives free of cardiovascular disease and stroke. A highlight of the evening is the formal presentation of the Sweethearts. The Central Arkansas Sweetheart program is a unique opportunity for high school sophomores to learn heart-healthy initiatives and develop civic leadership skills through volunteerism. The Washingtons’ eldest daughter Stephanie was a Sweetheart in 2015. “I think what I appreciate the most is the exposure that they get and the opportunity to give back,” Doris says. “Being able to go in and see what it means to serve as far as working in the hospital – even if you’re not a nurse or doctor, there are still lots of things to be done.”
Doris notes another reason for Oscar’s support of AHA was his father, who also had a rare heart condition that ultimately took his life in December of 2016. She emphasizes that Oscar’s specific goals were not merely to disseminate statistics and figures for more public awareness, but also to encourage others to have conversations with their own families about completing heart-related tests and knowing more about their own bodies.
Stephanie felt compelled to carry on with her father’s work and remain committed to this year’s ball. Though unsure at first, Doris decided it was too important not to share Oscar’s story. “It’s so ironic it happened the way that it did, but at the same time, I believe God has a purpose and a plan for everything,” she says.
“Doris has been inspirational in her ability to lead and be present to plan such a large high-profile event after her loss,” says Central Arkansas Heart Ball Director Tammy Quick. “Her willingness to tell her story will inspire people to support the mission and save lives. She will have an impact long after the Heart Ball.”
For his service, dedication and advocacy, this year’s Central Arkansas Heart Ball will be dedicated to Oscar. “The word that comes to mind when I think of Oscar is ‘passionate,’” Tammy says. “He had a passion for family, faith, work and people, and it gave him a tremendous amount of energy. He was always positive and had the biggest smile on his face. He was creative and would always bring ideas to the table to get people involved in our fundraising efforts.”
“That means a great deal,” Doris says. “Just because we knew how passionate he was about it and we knew that he really wanted to make a difference. We get to continue his legacy and really tell his story.”
Doris also says it’s important for her to let others know “that life goes on.” As she continues to raise their daughters Sydnie and Stephanie, whom she says are “night and day,” she places a priority on the values that she and Oscar shared. “How important it is to know yourself, to be a spiritual person and to give back to your community.” Doris is an active member of her church, St. Mark Baptist Church, and serves as co-director of the church’s Girl Scout troop. Additionally, she is a member of Junior League of Little Rock.
The Washingtons have plans to explore Europe, as travel remains a family favorite. “What I’ve found is in most places, everything is less stressful than what we do in the United States. So just getting away and getting in that kind of slower pace of life sometimes is really nice.”
In celebrating Oscar’s life, in promoting the important live-saving work of the AHA, in raising their girls and in carrying on, there’s simply one reason: life is why.
Stephanie, Doris & Sydnie Washington