Bruce and Debra Harrow. Photo by Paul Neevel.

Bruce and Debra Harrow

“Debra and I were high school sweethearts,” Bruce Harrow relates, but after graduation from Westchester High School in Houston, Texas, they went separate ways. “We lost touch with each other.” Bruce studied at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and spent a decade as a locum tenens physician, filling in for other doctors and practicing in six states, while Debra went to Texas Christian University, became an occupational therapist, and worked as a case manager in the mental health field for Kaiser Permanente in California. They each got married, raised children and eventually divorced. Bruce was working for a hospice company in St. Petersburg, Florida, in proximity to his aging parents in 2009, when he located Debra via the internet and invited her to visit. “I retired from Kaiser after 11 years,” she notes, “and married Bruce. I helped with his parents.” The couple also volunteered with Gaia Gardening, establishing community gardens at local schools. “We did permeabilizing with 30 or more volunteers,” Bruce says, “building a garden in one day.” 

When Bruce’s parents passed on, he and Debra moved to Oregon. Her father and brother live in Medford, but they chose to settle in Eugene. “Eugene looked promising for jobs,” says Bruce, who worked at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital for two years, then took a job at Cascade Health Hospice. “About that time, we heard about Occupy Medical,” he adds. “In 2013, we wandered by the OM bus on the Park Blocks on a Sunday.” When clinic manager Sue Sierralupe let on that she was short a provider that day, he returned to the car for his medical bag, Debra announced that she had mental health experience, and they both became long-term OM volunteers who have also served in leadership roles. An avid gardener, Debra joined the OM herbalist team as an apprentice. “I learned to make the footbath we use,” she says, “and the lemon balm, our ‘sunshine syrup,’ uplifting and calming.” Following a diagnosis of lymphoma, Bruce Harrow has left his hospice job and toned down his volunteer activities. “We’re not sad,” he says. “Our Buddhist practice and everything else that life has given us has allowed us to laugh and cry and enjoy the ride.”