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December 19. 2012 8:44PM

Retiring Veterans Home commandant made a difference


From left, 25-year New Hampshire Veterans Home employee and volunteer Ida Harris, retiring Commandant Barry Conway and Alice Brown, who has been the assistant to the commandant since Conway took over the job in 1989. Conway is holding a plaque given him by his staff at his retirement party on Tuesday. (DAN SEUFERT/Union Leader Correspondent)
TILTON - When Barry Conway retires from his post as commandant of the New Hampshire Veterans Home on Jan. 30, he will take a long list of accomplishments, honors and awards home with him.

Since becoming commandant in 1989, he's been honored by veterans and lawmakers many times, including a recent proclamation in the Legislature crediting him for his service and his achievements.

But he is most honored, he said, by the knowledge that he made a difference in the lives of so many New Hampshire residents who have served their country in the military.

When Conway arrived, the home was a small facility with a small staff that aided aging veterans as best it could, with bingo games as its major recreational offering. Established in 1890 as the Soldier's Home for Civil War Veterans, it had provided care and comfort for thousands of veterans over the years with the limited technology of the times.

Under his leadership, it has become a model for other veterans' homes, offering sophisticated, professionally staffed, life-care programs - including palliative care, PTSD care and Alzheimer's care - for nearly 300 veterans each year. With help from donations from veterans' groups, individuals and local businesses, the home now has state-of-the-art exercise equipment to help keep veterans mobile in their later years.

Conway helped develop the home's new intergenerational program, which brings students from area schools to the home for programs that help keep aging vets feeling young in their hearts and minds.

The home has adopted an overall strategy of improving aging veterans' health by improving their quality of life.

"We think it's a better approach," he said. "It's something we've embraced, and I've really been pleased with the results."

When asked about his proudest achievement, Conway, a career health care administrator, paused and pondered for a minute. It's hard to quantify more than two decades of work, he said.

"There aren't any metrics for this," he said. "But hearing loved ones saying their veteran's mind has done much better here, and having a man say to me, 'I came here to die, now I've learned how to live' . that's exciting."

A former U.S. Army medic, Conway said he is looking forward to retirement. When the home's current business administrator, Peggie LeBreque, takes over as the home's acting administrator, he will remain involved in the home's activities and will stay active in veterans affairs organizations, committees, and issues, he said, from his home in Hampton.

He plans to continue his leading role in a move to offer outpatient veterans' services at the home, something he foresees occurring within four years or so.

He also hopes to travel, and to spend more time with his wife, his adult children and his four grandchildren.

On Tuesday, he was given a going away party by his staff. He'll miss them and his veterans, most of all, he said.

"The people here are all the best," he said. "I will miss making the rounds every day, I know that."

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Dan Seufert may be reached at dseufert@newstote.com.

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