By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
When Sharon Douglas’ husband died unexpectedly in 2016, she said, like many surviving spouses, she felt lost. But soon after, she received a call from the membership chairman of the Northern Arizona Chapter of MOAA inviting her to attend a chapter meeting.
“I’m not sure why I went, but I did, and everyone was welcoming,” Douglas said, whose husband had been a longtime member of national MOAA. “I felt comfortable and liked what they were supporting.”
It didn’t take long for her to take on a leadership role, becoming treasurer of the chapter. Today, she not only serves as chapter president but also as surviving spouse liaison for the Arizona Council of Chapters — a role that allows her to help other surviving spouses navigate the oftentimes challenging journey following the death of their spouse.
“My biggest responsibility is reaching out to the surviving spouses in our chapters in the state, especially the new surviving spouses, and trying to give them some direction about what they need to do,” Douglas said.
She also works to keep surviving spouses as well as all chapter members informed about resources that can help them prepare for and navigate the death of a spouse, sharing via newsletter articles, email, and a presentation items of interest from national MOAA, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, and other sources.
For her work, Douglas is a recipient of MOAA’s 2021 Surviving Spouse Liaison Excellence Award.
“[Sharon] is extremely intelligent, strong, and motivated,” said Lt. Col. Dick Jonas, USAF (Ret), immediate past president of the Arizona Council of Chapters. “She has a good heart, and she is ideally suited to the position of surviving spouse liaison. She demonstrates that capability on a continuing basis —with complete empathy and compassion. She is most deserving of the Surviving Spouse Liaison Excellence Award.”
Douglas says the surviving spouse liaison role is important in all MOAA chapters to ensure surviving spouses know they have someone to turn to after losing their significant other.
“If you don’t have someone who’s proactive in reaching out, the surviving spouse can fall through the cracks,” she said. “Many are older and used to being a part of the couple, and it's foreign for them to go to a meeting or reach out alone. It helps keep them active and helps their well-being to be a part of the chapter.”
She personally has benefited from chapter membership and the opportunities to serve in leadership roles.
“It has taken care of all my spare time, and that’s a really good thing,” she said. “I was such a new widow [when I joined the chapter], but it made me feel better to take care of something else. It helped me find a way to function as a surviving spouse and a way to give back and help others. It also keeps my husband’s memory alive. It’s really helped me a lot of ways — I’ve learned so much.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.
MOAA Meeting Resources
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