Charlie and Betty Foster had been ardent supporters of local hospitals long before they moved from Richmond to Charlottesville in 2006, not only donating money but also giving generously of their time and talents. “We wanted to try to make the community where we lived and worked a little bit better, and nothing is more important to a community than good health care,” says Charlie, who retired in 2005 after a 25-year career as chairman and CEO of LandAmerica Financial Group.
No hospital has ever proven more meaningful to the couple than Sentara Martha Jefferson, which inadvertently paid them back in the form of pure joy. “That’s where we got to meet our first grandbabies,” Charlie explains proudly.
Their daughter, Sarah Raffinan, gave birth to a daughter, Mary, at the Locust Avenue hospital in 2006, followed by a son, Seth, in 2008. On both occasions, Betty stayed by Sarah’s side during the long, difficult deliveries. During those moments, she and Sarah, who always had an incredibly close relationship, bonded in new ways.
“When Mary was born, there was that moment when she was handed to me for the first time, and I’m looking at Mom, and I just suddenly ‘got’ my mother,” Sarah recalls. “I understood completely the depth with which she loved me and my sister, Elizabeth. You can’t really understand that until you’re living it, and it just changed everything in terms of how I related to my mom. So those times in the delivery room are probably my favorite memories of her.”
Life was especially happy for the Foster family in the months after Seth was born. Charlie and Betty were fully enjoying their dream home in Free Union. Sarah and her husband, Mark, had already started planning to have a third child. And the Fosters, who already donated annually to Sentara Martha Jefferson, had begun thinking about contributing to the capital campaign for the new hospital on Pantops Mountain.
Then their world fell apart. Betty was diagnosed with cancer in March 2009 and passed away just before Christmas that year. She was only 62 years old.
For Sarah, plans for a third child were put on indefinite hold. “I just couldn’t imagine having a baby without my mother being there,” she recalls. “I couldn’t even begin to wrap my head around the idea.”
To help cope with his own grief, Charlie quietly started looking for just the right way to honor Betty. His wife was well known for her devotion to family and friends; her appreciation for travel, books and nature; and her commitment to academic and community organizations. “Probably the favorite part of her life, though, was being a mother and a grandmother,” he explains.
Without telling either of his daughters, Charlie quietly decided to donate to the new hospital campaign and commemorate Labor and Delivery Room 6 at the new Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital. Today, the room’s doorway bears a simple silver plaque that reads: “In memory of Elizabeth F. Foster.” Located just across from a nurse’s station, the room is one of the busiest in the department, having served hundreds of patients over the years.
In June 2014, Sarah “lucked” into being one of those women when she gave birth to her third child, Charles “Bo” Raffinan.
“To be in that room meant the world to me,” Sarah says, who first got to see it when she took her children on a sibling tour during the month before her due date. “I was so tired and apprehensive because I was two weeks overdue and was really missing my mother, so to get there that morning and find that Mom was going to be with me in some small way—and for it all to come full circle—was just really meaningful and so beautiful. It still chokes me up every time I think about it.”
For Sarah, the nursing care she received was of the same high quality that she experienced during her first two deliveries, but the overall environment was definitely an upgrade. Labor and Delivery Room 6 was brighter and much more spacious and calming than the birthing rooms she’d been in before. And since Bo, like his siblings before him, insisted on taking his time, Sarah spent numerous hours “walking every inch” of the new hospital, taking the opportunity to enjoy the artwork, interior design and mountain views.
“It feels more like a hotel than a hospital,” she notes. “But what really always made the place for me was the people. They are so committed and so good at what they do. That hasn’t changed, but I think now they have the facility and the environment they need, so they can do what they do to the absolute best of their ability.”
When Charlie finally got the chance to meet little Bo for the first time, he was quick to realize that he shared his daughter’s perspective. “It was already a great hospital, and despite some of the changes they’ve gone through and the challenges the healthcare industry has faced as a whole, they’re still doing the same great job at providing a caring, comforting environment,” he states. “As a donor, I was happy to see that, and I hope Sentara Martha Jefferson will continue to provide that kind of high-quality care for decades to come.”