Nancy Devereux crusaded on behalf of the mentally ill

From the Coos Bay World, May 7, 2013

A woman who battled for decades to provide a safe haven for the mentally ill and their families has died at age 82.

Nancy Devereux battled for decades to provide a safe haven for the mentally ill and their families. She died Sunday at age 82.

Nancy Devereux battled for decades to provide a safe haven for the mentally ill and their families. She died Sunday at age 82.

More than 30 years ago, Nancy Devereux took out a newspaper ad seeking others like her, who had mentally ill family members. She offered her home as an initial meeting place.

Barbara Anderson was among the 15 or so who responded to that first call.

“We had a priceless friendship.”

Anderson was with Devereux throughout the growth of what would become the Nancy Devereux Center. The effort snowballed from that first meeting to become one of Oregon’s first grass-roots organizations to [join] the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

When she thinks back on those years, Anderson remembers a woman with drive and plenty of smarts.

“Her inventiveness, her creativity, oh my gosh, you could be up against a tough budget situation, but it just didn’t stop her.”

Devereux founded the center in 1979 as The People’s Store, and she worked in the center until she retired in the late 1990s. The thrift store was an important funding source as the organization grew.

It survived tough times and funding cutbacks over the years. Today the center’s mission has expanded to include working with the homeless, many of whom deal with mental illness and are in danger of falling through the cracks.

The site’s lunch program averages more than 80 people a day, three days a week. It also provides support groups and classes, as well as showers, mail service, and washers and dryers.

“She made all of this possible,” Anderson said. “The people out here have nothing, for a lot of them they have nowhere else to go.”

Bittin Duggan, a center volunteer, said she and Devereux had been neighbors for years.

“She was an incredible woman,” she said. Even battling illness in recent years, Devereux liked to keep an eye on how her center was doing. She wanted to know what kind of good it was doing in the community.

“She was a very, very special lady, and we are all going to miss her,” Anderson said.