"You can't wrap love in a box, but you can wrap a person in a hug." - Anonymous
US Air Force Veteran Elizabeth Laird, better known as the "Hug Lady" of Fort Hood, recently passed away at 83 years old. Over the years she wrapped her arms around more than 500,000 soldiers, according to the estimates of Army officials.
Initially, Laird volunteered to shake soldier's hands. According to an interview with NBC's Today Show, one soldier offered to give her a hug after she shook his hand. She went from handshakes to hugs from that moment on.
In 2003, she and Command Sgt. Maj. William "Joe" Gainey signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing her mission: Laird was now officially authorized to hug every Fort Hood soldier departing or arriving. She was there with open arms - no matter the time, weather, how large or small of a group, family circumstances, or her own cancer diagnosis.
"[She] wanted to make sure someone here at home is interested and waiting for them to come home again," Laird's son Richard Dewee said.
Col. Christopher C. Garver, a military spokesman, released a the following statement on Laird's passing:
On behalf of the Soldiers, Airmen, Civilians, and Families of III Corps and Fort Hood, I want to extend our sincere condolences to the family of Mrs. Elizabeth Laird, known throughout Central Texas as "The Hug Lady." She has long been associated with Fort Hood for her dedication, support, and genuine care for our Soldiers, Families and Civilian employees. For more than a decade, she has been personally saying farewell to our troops as they deploy and greeting them as they return. It is with heavy hearts that we express our gratitude for Elizabeth, not only for her service with the U.S. Air Force, but also in recognition of her tireless efforts to show her appreciation for our Soldiers and her recognition of their many sacrifices. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and loved ones; she will be deeply missed.
Laird's niece Becky Triplett posted the following on her Facebook page:
"When I talked to her the last time, she had been invited to the Rachel Ray show. When I asked if she was going she said 'No I don't think so, it wouldn't be fair to the soldier coming or going. They deserve that hug more.' She left a very good legacy. RIP Aunt Betty."
An online petition to name the Fort Hood Deployment Center in Elizabeth Laird's honor can be found here.