A Life Remembered: Betty Durfee, a Nurse and Counselor to Students

Nov 10, 2014

Betty Durfee worked for 40 years as the head nurse at Tabor Academy in Marion.
Credit Courtesy photo

Emblazoned below the image of a full-rigged ship, the old Tabor’s motto proclaims “All-A-Taut,” a nautical turn of phrase entirely consistent with the salty ambience of this seaport town. For more than 40 of her 82 years, Betty Durfee was the school’s head nurse. It was a good fit. Durfee was old school too. She ran the infirmary and, in keeping with the school motto, people who knew her say she ran a very tight ship.

Over her four decades of service, thousands of teenage students and dozens of faculty members came to appreciate Durfee’s skill, compassion, and common sense as she went about her duties.

“I knew Betty Durfee for almost thirty years here at Tabor," said Dick Duffy, who teaches in Tabor's history department. "I was the dean for eighteen years and Betty was the head nurse and I could always count on her to take the sick and the wounded. And I would have to take some of the miscreants and various  disheveled shapes, and on weekends I’d bang on the door at all hours of the night and hand her some out of shape student. She was terrific with them, a real trooper and I really admired working with her.”

Raised in Sandusky, Ohio, Durfee came to New England after she won a scholarship to Rhode Island School of Nursing, said her son, Scott Durfee.

"My dad, Donald Durfee, met her in the hospital. He was getting his appendix out and the rest is history. They ended up getting married and settled in Marion and my mom got a job at the Tabor Infirmary. She worked at Tabor forty years. It was a big part of her life.”  

One of the people she worked with Durfee in the 15-bed infirmary was Dr. John Howard, a school physician who remembers Durfee as an extremely intelligent lady and an excellent nurse.

“The students really liked her," Howard said. "She was very supportive and they would often stop by just to chat, maybe a little bit of homesickness, maybe some stress, but she was always there. Many of those students look back at their Tabor experience in large part as a Betty Durfee experience.”  

While students knew they could always expect to Durfee to lend a sympathetic ear to their tales of woe, her son Scott said students also learned that it was futile to try and pull the wool over her eyes as her own son attests.

“She was quite a tough old bird there," he said. "I mean, if you were trying to skip class and get an excuse you really had to be hurting to get an excuse from my mother. She was old school and at the end when she retired she was in her 70s and they almost had to ask her politely to leave or she would have stayed there till she was ninety ten. My Mom just absolutely loved Marion and she loved Tabor Academy.”

“Betty on several occasions would give me a call because some student had to go to Tobey for an x-ray or some other emergency," said Gunther Sukert, who has been working at Tabor since 1967. "My dorm was across from her duty station. I never had such a compassionate person who would look after all the students all the time. She was a great person."

When it came to her own children, Scott Durfee said they received the same treatment as everyone else.

“When I was at Old Rochester," he said, "I missed one day of school my whole eleven years there because I had the measles. The nurse called my mom to pick me up. I said ‘Boy Mom, I’m really sick.’  And she said 'Naw, you just got the 24 hour measles. You’ll be back in school tomorrow.' And I was back in school the next day.”    

Betty Durfee left her mark on Tabor Academy and a lasting impression on all those who knew her.

“I went to her service at St. Gabe’s, and just to let you know, every nurse that worked with her was in attendance," Dr. Duffy said, "every single one and even a couple of the new nurses that didn’t know her came to pay their respects and she’ll always be remembered as a consummate professional and works diligently at her trade. People like that to me are the old school and she’ll be sorely missed."

Betty Durfee died Sept. 16 at the Sippican Healthcare Center in Marion. She was 82.