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Alison MatthewmanAlison Matthewman

It takes a lot of hands to make Mount Evans Home Health and Hospice work. Two of those hands belong to certified nursing assistant Alison Matthewman.

“Some of my patients call me their ‘bath person,’” she laughs. Alison laughs a lot, smiles when she’s not laughing, and rarely misses an opportunity to crack wise. “Humor can relax people under what can sometimes be embarrassing circumstances.”

As a child in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, she spent sunny days roaming rocky shores beneath picturesque lighthouses, and fell asleep at night to the plaintive song of foghorns. Alison’s dreams were not of awkward situations, but of the bright sunrise Out West.

“I came out to DU in 1964 and studied hotel and restaurant management.”

The degree program required that Alison devote a term of study to working in the field, and in her junior year she signed on at Ski Tip Ranch on Montezuma Road outside of Keystone.

“I waited tables, bartended, and skied. I was basically a ski bum.”

She was a pretty good ski bum, eventually rising to become assistant manager and buyer for the Loveland Ski Area gift shop. She met her husband there, and was living in nearby Silver Plume in the fall of 1970 when a chartered DC-6 crashed into the mountainside just up the valley, killing 31 members of the Wichita State University football team.

“My dog was barking. I looked outside and saw it fly really low right over my house. That was a bad day.”

In 1978, Alison checked her skis for the last time and moved to Vancouver, Wash., taking a job managing a clothing store. The front porch of her home featured a splendid view of Mount Saint Helens’ perfect cone.

“It blew the year after I sold the place.”

Her son, Andrew, was born in 1981, in the decidedly casual Los Angeles suburb of Orange where Alison managed a tall-and-big-woman’s shop. The job came with some unexpected compensations.

“A lot of transvestites were regular customers,” she smiles. “It was interesting to see a man in a business suit put his new bra in his briefcase and walk out the door.”

The next stop on Alison’s long road was Kailua, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. For the first time in a long time, she didn’t have a job, which gave her plenty of time to dote on her new daughter, Katie.

“What a wonderful place not to work,” she laughs.

But there was bitter to go with that sweetness. Her marriage foundering, Alison returned to the mainland and settled in Las Vegas, where she spent the next six years selling real estate in the nation’s gaming Mecca. It was a good life, but not good enough.

“I didn’t want to raise my kids where the taxicabs say “Girls!Girls!Girls!” on the back,” she explains. “I sold the house, packed up the kids, cats and Nintendo, and moved out. I was a single mom with no job, no nothing.”

Well, not exactly nothing. She had her dauntless spirit, saving humor, and some very good friends back in Colorado. Alison, Andrew and Katie arrived in Evergreen in 1992. They lived together in a friend’s basement until Alison could purchase a home in Brook Forest. All she needed was a job, and, as luck would have it, her friend had a good lead on one.

“She asked me if I’d ever thought about being a home health aide. I asked her what home health aides do. She said they take care of people. I thought ‘I’m a mom. All I do is take care of people. I can do that.’ Also, Katie is a special-needs child, and as a home health aide I could be home every day when the kids got off the bus. That was very important to us.”

Alison went to school to become a certified nursing assistant, and then began training to become a Mount Evans home health aide. The woman who trained her expressed grave doubts about the cheerful apprentice’s fitness for the job.

“She told me she didn’t know if I was going to last as an HHA,” laughs Alison. “She said I was too fun, too light about it. To tell you the truth, the idea of being around people who are going to die scared the hell out of me.

It’s been 21 years since Alison wondered what in the world she was getting herself into, which turned out to the very heart of Mount Evans’ essential calling. The nonprofit’s handful of HHAs are “bath people,” true enough, and personal care people, and transfer people, and a hundred other people, besides.

“We take vital signs, check medications, work with occupational therapists, and see to the patient’s comfort. In many ways we’re the liaisons between the patient and their nurse. We have frequent, direct contact with them, and can report changes or problems as soon as they come up. Patients talk to us. We know all about their families. We know what they like and what they don’t like. When you spend that much time with somebody you become like a part of their family, and that makes it a lot harder when one of your patients dies.”

In at least one sense, that skeptical trainer was a bit off the mark. Alison’s infectious good spirits and irrepressible humor have proved themselves to be strong assets in an emotionally and physically demanding vocation. They’ve also made her a favorite guest of the people she helps, a reliably bright star shining warmth and laughter down upon dark circumstances. On the other hand, the trainer wasn’t completely wrong, either. After just 21 happy and useful years tending her neighbors in need, Alison’s calling it quits.

“It’s just time,” she shrugs. “I’m going to be 68, I’ve had a knee replaced, I have arthritis in my back, and this is a very physical job.”

What she’ll do next, Alison doesn’t know. What she does know is that hiring on as a Mount Evans home health aide was one of the best moves she ever made.

“It’s been very rewarding, or I wouldn’t have done it for 21 years. I know it sounds trite, but I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. This job really thrust me into the community in many respects. When I go to the grocery store I usually wind up talking to a former patient over the vegetables. And Mount Evans is like a second family to Katie. The people I’ve worked with are great.”

Ask anybody who’s worked with Alison and they’ll say the feeling is entirely mutual. Ask anybody who’s been her patient and they’ll say her retirement, while richly deserved, is a sad loss to the mountain community.

“There’s a Leonard Cohen song that goes ‘there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.’ I like to think I let some light into some people’s lives. I think that’s what we all try to do.”