Doreen Tester, 97, from Reading, England remained propped against a pillow and closed her eyes as her daughter expounded upon her mother’s achievements, travels and fortunes. Tester was one of five Tri-Cities recipients to earn Tennessee Health Care Association’s Who’s Who honor.
According to Tina Tester-Jones, Doreen’s oldest child, her passion for others molded a successful and lifelong nursing career, and her mother’s love story was one for the books.
“She’d always serve others before herself,” Tester-Jones said. “That was her motto. She’s a sweet woman who loves animals. She’s had dogs and cats and guinea pigs and rabbits. … I remember one day she called me at work and asked, ‘Oh, Tina, what do you feed chipmunks? I see chipmunks running around outside!’”
Tester retired from nursing in 1999 at Bristol Medical Associates despite never attending nursing school. Everything she learned she gathered from a physician in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in the 1960s, who taught her procedures such as measuring blood pressure and heart rate.
Decades before establishing a nursing career in Bristol, Virginia, Tester lived in England in a single-father home along with her twin brother, Robin Tester. During the 1940s, England was bombarded by World War II. Germany blitz-attacked London and surrounding towns, leaving families devastated from the destruction.
“They would have to hide under their desks at school or run down to bomb shelters when the planes came,” Tester-Jones said. “Food was rationed. She learned to drink her tea without sugar in it. Eggs were precious. When they got eggs, she’d hope to get one a day; she talked a lot about that. When she would want to make something, she would hide the ingredients to make sure she had it — whatever it was, even tablespoons.”
The bombings in England persisted throughout Tester’s early adolescence, but she persevered and completed high school, advanced to hair dressing school, and found work shortly after graduation in a hairdressing shop in downtown London. Her mother had returned shortly before her high school graduation, and her parents launched a bed and breakfast in London.
Tester discovered a lifetime love at her parents’ business when a U.S. Army soldier decided to unwind at the bed and breakfast on a night Doreen visited her parents.
“In London, her family owned a bed and breakfast,” Tester-Jones said. “My dad, who was in the U.S. Army, went there and stayed, and that’s how my parents met. Then they just started seeing each other off and on from then on out.”
Tester married Elvin Tester in 1951, and the two moved to the United States after Elvin’s tour of England. Tester-Jones recollected her father’s humor and love for his wife.
“My dad made a running family joke about how they met,” Tester-Jones said. “He would always say, ‘They had to pump the sunshine in.’ I have no idea what that really meant, but I guess my dad was just trying to be funny. I just recall him always saying that about my mother.”
Laughter from around the corner interrupted the interview, and Doreen asked, “Who’s hollering?”
Her daughter assured her it was just a group of people getting loud, and she replied, “Oh, that’s all right. That’s OK. I’ll let them jaw.”
Tester’s son, Don Tester, arrived with several of her great-grandchildren, who encircled Doreen with hugs and kisses.
“What’s going on here, Mom?” he asked.
“I’m just being real famous,” Doreen said.
Tester’s son vouched for his mother’s caring nature and work ethic, and he remembered nights his mother worked around the clock to guarantee others’ needs were accommodated before her own.
“She’s so sweet,” he said. “She would take doctors’ lab coats home and wash them and iron them like brand-new. She took care of people first before herself all the time.”
When Tester wasn’t working or serving others, she spent her time reliving her own childhood with her kids and joined in on the shenanigans on their military base in Germany.
“I remember Mom would go outside with the kids and sled on the hills,” Tester-Jones said while laughing. “Well, one day she ended up going over a bump and cracked her tail-end.”
Tester followed her husband around the globe as he served in the Army. Eventually, he retired, and the family settled in his birthplace, Bristol, Virginia.
“This is the longest place we’ve ever lived,” her son said.“Right here in this area. My dad was from Bristol, Virginia, so when he retired, he decided to come home. I ended up graduating here, but we went to five other schools growing up. We traveled a lot.”
Since 1983, THCA has identified more than 2,300 individuals living in long-term care facilities who made noteworthy contributions to society and helped to shape history through their actions.
“We don’t specify certain types of achievements that are necessary,” Jay Moore, THCA’s director of communications, said. “As long as the nursing home resident in question has made some sort of meaningful contribution to society and everything checks out, the resident is honored. We created the program to help tell the life stories of nursing home residents. Many of them have led fascinating lives and made significant contributions to their communities over the years, and this program is just one way we try to recognize them.”
There were 68 honorees in Tennessee this year. Four other honorees in the Tri-Cities were Kenneth Cohen, Dennis Kelsoe, Opal Leedy and Gary Wheelock.