Vernice D. Ferguson, 84, who served as chief nurse at the Department of Veterans Affairs, died Dec. 8 at her home in Washington. A niece, Hope Ferguson, confirmed the death. The cause was not disclosed.

As assistant chief medical director, Ms. Ferguson oversaw the VA’s nursing programs from 1980 to 1992. The operation has been described as the largest organized nursing outfit in the world, with more than 60,000 nursing personnel.

Ms. Ferguson was credited with establishing research initiatives and a scholarship program to recruit nurses. During her tenure, the number of registered nurses with a baccalaureate degree or higher more than doubled, according to New York University.

Vernice Doris Ferguson was born in Fayetteville, N.C., and grew up in Baltimore. She received a bachelor’s degree and nursing certificate from New York University in 1950 and a master’s degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 1957. Before becoming a nurse, she was a science teacher in Baltimore.

Ms. Ferguson was chief of the nursing department at the National Institutes of Health clinical center before joining the Veterans Administration, now known as the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Bill McBride
Florida gubernatorial candidate

Bill McBride, 67, who defeated Janet Reno for Florida’s Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2002 but lost to Republican Gov. Jeb Bush, died Dec. 22. His wife, Alex Sink, said he had a heart attack while visiting relatives in Mount Airy, N.C.

Sink herself was Florida’s Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 but lost to Gov. Rick Scott (R). The couple lived outside Tampa.

Mr. McBride had never run for office before he defeated Reno, who was U.S. attorney general under President Bill Clinton, in the Democratic primary to run against Bush, who was seeking a second term. Before entering politics, Mr. McBride was managing partner at the Holland & Knight law firm.

Ryan Freel
baseball player

Ryan Freel, 36, a former major league baseball player known for his fearless play whose career was cut short by injuries, was found dead Dec. 22 at his home in Jacksonville, Fla. He died of a self-inflicted shotgun blast, Sgt. Mike Paul of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office told the Florida Times-Union newspaper.

The speedy Mr. Freel spent six of his eight big-league seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and finished his career in 2009 with a .268 average and 143 stolen bases.

He drew attention in 2006 when he was quoted by the Dayton Daily News as saying he had an imaginary friend, Farney. “He’s a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him,” Mr. Freel was quoted as saying. “Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell ’em I’m talking to Farney.”

Mr. Freel showed no fear as he ran into walls, hurtled into the seats and crashed into other players trying to make catches. He once estimated he had sustained up to 10 concussions during his playing days.

— News services and staff reports