Hildegarde (grade) Chessnoe, 56, a hospital emergency room volunteer who also worked with the terminally ill and their families, died of cancer Tuesday at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Born in England, Mrs. Chessnoe was a communications officer in the women's section of the RAF and then a teletype operator for the U.S. Army during World War II.
Trained in communications by the man who had been Gen. John J. Pershing's communications officer in World War I, her job was to send ammunition supply teletypes, a delicate operation, in the days leading up to the Normandy invasion.
Mrs. Chessnoe was based at Western Bay Headquarters in Chester, England, where she met her husband, retired Army Co. Michael Chessnoe, then a captain, whose messages it was her job to send.
"She was one of the best in a job where the wrong transmission of even one [alphabetical] letter might have disastrous results," Col. Chessnoe said.
"She'd work long hours, curl up on a window seat, grab a couple of hours' sleep, then get right back to work. This was in the fall of '43 and early in '44, right before the invasion and there was so much traffic at the time. I said to myself, "This is the girl for me.'"
And so they were married, and in 1946, Mrs. Chessnoe came to the United States as a war bride.
Col. and Mrs. Chessnoe settled in Annandale and began rearing a family. He was now an Army ordnace officer, required to travel to bases in the Pacific, the Far East and in Europe. Mrs Chessnoe remained behind to care for home and children. When her children were grown, she became involved with women's groups and volunteer work.
About 12 years ago, she developed breast cancer and had an operation. With her children no longer at home and with her husband's encouragement, she went to Farifax Hospital to see is they could use her services on a volunteer basis. Told there were no emergency room volunteers, she began working as a volunteer there, cleaning suture sets, running errands and working in the waiting room.
In 1973, a lump was discovered in her neck and Mrs. Chessnoe was told that cancer has reappeared.
Her life then became divided between her hospital work and treatment for her own disease.She began working exclusively as an emergency room volunteer, earning the hospital's award for 3,000-plus volunteer hours.
She also became an emergency room coordinator for the Farifax Hospital Auxillary and helped train men and women to work as emergency room volunteers.
Mrs. Chessnoe often spoke at hospital seminars for nurses and chaplains and others on how to relate to terminal patients.
When she recently addressed a delegation from the Virginia General Assembly, which held hearings on the need for hospices for the dying, she said, "Where do I go when it's my time to die? There's no place for terminal patients, who need only to be kept clean and free of pain."
She was an advocate of hospices, facilities tailored to the needs of dying patients - many of them suffering from cancer - and their families and loved ones.
Mrs. Chessnoe also was a strong supporters of the use of drugs like heroin, morphine, cocaine and other controlled substances to spare the terminally ill from pain. She was on the national committee for the use of heroin for such patients. She herself had undergone extensive chemotherapy an radiology treatment, including the use of methadone, a heroin subsititute, and a combination of cocaine, morphine and alcohol.
She worked for years with the American Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, the Northern Virginia chapter of Make Today Count and with the Reach for Recovery group.
In 1978, she received an award from the Washington Area Volunteer Activists for her contributions.
Besides her husband, of the home, survivors include two daughters, Mary Victoria Diaz, of Alexandria, and Elizabeth Alexandra Thurman, of Haymarket, Va; a son, John Michael, of the home; two brothers, Alan and John Newell, both of Great Britain and five grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture, HILDEGARDE CHESSNOE