The Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee of Portsmouth, New Hampshire


Survivor strives to make a difference

By Elizabeth Kenny

PORTSMOUTH - "Tikkun Olam" is a Hebrew phrase that means "leave the world a better place." It's also Audrey Bierhans' life credo.

It has helped to guide her through 53 years of marriage, through the rearing of two children and through a severe stroke that left her right side paralyzed 2' years ago.

It's the "fighter" in Audrey and her efforts on the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee that convinced Mayor Evelyn Sirrell to present her with the 2005 Mayor's Award.

"She's just a person that's so outstanding," Sirrell said Wednesday. "I just had to do something for her."

Audrey admits the Cemetery Committee has been as important to her as she has been to it. When she suffered a stroke in the summer of 2003, it was her work on the committee that motivated her to get better. It pushes her still.

"If I didn't have the work with the Cemetery Committee, I would probably be very depressed," Audrey said during an interview in her Portsmouth home Wednesday.

It's her love of history that inspired her to join the committee years ago and continues to inspire her today.

"Cemeteries should be more than places where stones lie on the ground," Audrey said. "Cemeteries hold the stories of the people who have lived in the past ... people who have shaped our past."

In Portsmouth alone, Audrey said, you can find the grave sites of Revolutionary War heroes and of men who signed the U.S. Constitution. Audrey calls her job "bringing the past to life" through numerous programs throughout the year.

Audrey said her work with the committee, and her devoted husband, Irwin, help her to get out of bed in the morning.

"If I were to say anything to people who have a handicap, it's' that they can't allow it to take over their life," Audrey said. "They have to go out and do something useful and help other people."

Irwin, 73, said his wife's stroke has been tough on him as well, giving him new jobs around the house on top of his part-time job, but it's worth it.

"We look at younger people today and we find the divorce rate discouraging," he said. "It seems younger people who run into problems think the easiest thing to do is get divorced. We've been married for 53 years and it hasn't always been a bowl of cherries. But if you run into problems, you work to overcome them."

But while the couple talks about Audrey's recovery with conviction, they admit it hasn't been easy.

"Nobody tells you about what happens after a stroke," Audrey said, describing the constant pain in muscles that no longer work.

She's worked hard to rise to levels unimaginable - she walks and talks with only a slight shake, after doctors feared should would not even be able to survive the stroke.

Audrey pushes on, having already spent countless hours planning the 2006 cemetery programs, which will begin in March. She thinks she is deserving of the award because of her work ethic and her creed: Tikkun Olam.


To donate to the Mayor's Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee, write to the committee at P.O. Box 606, Portsmouth, NH 03802.

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