Christine “Chris” Jovanovich, a longtime practitioner of home health care and one of the driving forces behind a now-thriving network of other caregivers on the island, died on March 5. She was 60 years old.
One year ago, Jovanovich was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
Her illness and death brought her life full circle.
After decades of service as a certified nursing assistant whose work included helping many clients access hospice services, her own death occurred at her home, surrounded by her family.
Her large and loving immediate family included her husband of 39 years, Tim Jovanovich, seven children and their spouses, seven grandchildren, as well as her surviving mother and three siblings.
On Vashon, Chris was widely known and revered as a visionary organizer who foresaw the island’s need, as an aging and ferry-dependent community, to establish better support systems for islanders to remain in their homes as they grew older.
With her close collaborator and longtime friend, Bridget Webb, Chris established Vashon’s Care Closet, a large and well-stocked free “lending library” of donated items that are necessary during convalescence — shower chairs, crutches, wheelchairs, walkers, knee scooters, hygiene products, hospital beds, and much more.
The Care Closet — which outgrew several locations as the years progressed — now has a secure and permanent home in two large outbuildings on the grounds of Vashon Lutheran Church. It currently distributes approximately 1800 pieces of medical equipment and a sizable supply of hygiene products to about 800 islanders annually, and also regularly redistributes its excess inventory to other organizations in the region.
The coalition of caregivers Chris helped cultivate on Vashon has also grown, and is now served by its own nonprofit organization, the Vashon Care Network, founded in 2018 to provide resources to both those who need care and those who give care on the island.
The organization’s website, vashoncarenetwork.org, provides a registry of local licensed caregivers, a wealth of information about healthcare and social services on both Vashon and the mainland, and detailed information about the Care Closet.
Other recent programs undertaken by the nonprofit, under Chris’s leadership, included two recent scholarship and training programs, which resulted in about a dozen islanders becoming certified by the State of Washington to become Home Care Aides serving financially eligible clients.
“She was a quiet hero,” said Mary Devlin Sage, a longtime friend who experienced Chris’s deep support when her first husband, Mark Devlin, entered hospice care following a battle with cancer. “What she did her whole life was motivate people to be their better selves, and she did it without pushing.”
Chris also inspired many other people to join her in fulfilling her vision for a home health care network on Vashon, Devlin Sage said.
“She saw the need and saw the niche, and got other people excited about it,” Devlin Sage said. “People wanted to do things with her and for her.”
Three of those people were Jennifer Lynch, a caregiver, Kathy Shafel, a hospice nurse, and Bridget Webb, Chris’s longtime collaborator.
All of them described Chris as a person with remarkable caregiving skills, combined with a calm assurance that helped her solve difficult problems with both speed and grace.
Shafel recounted an oft-repeated mantra by Chris: “We’ll figure it out” — which also seemed to be a promise that Chris always found a way to keep.
Lynch, who called Chris “a shining light,” said that she never met a person who was more extraordinarily compassionate and generous.
“It just astounded me,” she said.
Webb said that it had been one of her life’s joys to have known and worked closely with Chris for more than 30 years and to see their efforts take root and flower on Vashon.
Chris’s legacy, she said, would be lasting.
Read Christine Jovanovich’s full obituary, with information about her funeral services, on page 11.