As World War II raged on, Helen Mata Gugerty wanted to help with the war effort, so she applied to and was accepted into the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps, setting off a career that included working with renowned doctors and aiding generations of Nassau students as a school nurse.
Gugerty, a longtime Locust Valley resident and the mother of Nassau Board of Elections Democratic Commissioner David Gugerty, died Sunday of complications from a gallbladder infection at age 89 in Annapolis, Maryland, her family said.
"She would always say she liked to express her love and caring for people through her actions," said her son, Lee Gugerty, a psychology professor at Clemson University in South Carolina.
Helen was born in Cascade, Montana, on Jan. 10, 1926, one of six children of Robert Merrill and Pearl Thurston Merrill. She was the first in her family to attend college. While at Utah State University, she was accepted into the Cadet Nurse Corps.
As part of the program she was trained at Bryn Mawr College in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, eventually graduating with her nursing degree from Johns Hopkins University. Gugerty worked for five years as an assistant and head nurse at Hopkins, working alongside Helen Taussig, a cardiologist regarded as the founder of pediatric cardiology.
At the university she met business student Leo Gugerty, whom she married in 1952. The couple moved in 1966 to Locust Valley, where they raised their five sons Lee, David, Merill, a Bayville attorney; Brian, who runs a nursing informatics business in Annapolis; and Paul, a physical therapist in Cortland.
While her sons attended grade school, Helen took courses at Adelphi College to get certified as a school nurse teacher.
She worked as a nurse for Locust Valley and Bayville elementary schools and in Brookville, as well as at the Portledge and Buckley Country Day schools. She also worked for the Rosemary Kennedy School for students with disabilities.
She was an active member of the Huntington Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Huntington Station, and a longtime kitchen volunteer for the Hempstead-based Interfaith Nutrition Network.
Her husband died in 2009. Besides her sons, she is survived by nine grandchildren.
A viewing is scheduled for Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Francis P. DeVine Funeral Home, 293 South St., in Oyster Bay. A service will be held at the funeral home on Saturday at 10 a.m. Interment will follow at Locust Valley Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Helen Merrill Gugerty Scholarship in care of the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.