In 2008, when Barbara Davies experienced the unthinkable loss of her son, she never imagined she’d have to relive that heartbreak just four years later.
Roy Davies Jr. was 20 years old when he died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition. In 2012, his younger brother Taylor, 15, passed away from an undiagnosed blood disorder.
For Barbara and her husband, Roy Sr., there were simply no words to describe the anguish.
The couple turned to The Compassionate Friends for support, guidance, shoulders to cry on — anything to help them work through the grief. And then, over time — and in honor of their sons — they began to offer the same for other families in need.
“One of the biggest fears of a parent who loses a child is that the child will be forgotten,” says Barbara, a claims manager for the National CAT team. “I’m Roy and Taylor’s mom; that’s how I like to be thought of. The Compassionate Friends became an outlet for me to be that.”
The Compassionate Friends has more than 600 chapters in the U.S. and abroad; each chapter is run by volunteers whose purpose is to help others through the life-changing catastrophe of losing a child.
As leaders of the organization’s Nashville chapter, the Davies coordinate the group’s efforts to offer comfort to parents, grandparents and siblings suffering a recent loss.
“Barbara has turned a personal catastrophe into a passion to serve others,” says her manager, Jeffrey Menaguale, associate director of Claims, who nominated her. “She has committed hundreds of hours to this worthy cause. Her positive spirit and desire to help is reflected daily in her position on the National Catastrophe team, and this same spirit is what motivates her to commit her time and talents to The Compassionate Friends.”
Barbara often uses vacation time to arrange programming, write notes of appreciation to donors and attend and speak at meetings and conferences — traveling at her own expense. She also served on a panel for a Vanderbilt University class discussing the unique grief of a parent.
The chapter meets on the second Sunday of each month, and Barbara also helps organize two special events each year: a balloon release and picnic, and a candle-lighting event that more than 200 people attend each December.
Those meetings last only a few hours, but she and Roy come home exhausted — in a good way.
“It’s hard to say I enjoy any of this, but every meeting and every month, there’s always new parents walking in the door. They have that look about them — the look that says they just need someone to tell them what do to,” Barbara says. “If I can just give them a hug, I feel like I’m doing a little payback for Roy and Taylor. Some days, getting out of bed isn’t going to happen for these people. So, to walk into that meeting? It’s a huge step, and incredibly brave.”
Roy Jr. worked for Nationwide in Dublin, Ohio, at the time of his passing, and the Davies’ daughter, Megan, now works for the company, too.
“The support I got from Nationwiders was just phenomenal,” Barbara says. “This is a caring company. One of a bereaved parent’s greatest fears is that you’ll stop hearing your child’s name. My reaction upon hearing about this award was that I get to be ‘Roy and Taylor’s mom’ again. The fact that Nationwide is honoring me and all volunteers in the company is a big thing. We not only recognize volunteerism; we celebrate it.”
As the Volunteer of the Year, Davies earns a $5,000 grant for The Compassionate Friends and two days of paid time off. Nine finalists each receive a $1,000 grant for their nonprofit organization and one day of paid time off.