March 8, 2012

From House Organ: The stories behind the winning photographs

The winner in the Group or Duo category was a wonderful picture of a dignified black Labrador, Jake, sprawled protectively across the lap of his girl, Elizabeth, who had two notable characteristics: her big smile and her lack of hair from chemotherapy.

The photo was taken and sent in by Anne Ussery of the Finance office, and it was the top vote getter in its category, winning almost one in three of all votes cast — by far a higher percentage than the winners in other categories.

What many people at Vanderbilt, including many staff members on the sixth floor of the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, knew was that Elizabeth, Anne’s daughter, the girl with the luminous smile, died last summer.

“She had leukemia, and the picture was taken while she was in treatment,” Anne wrote. “She was first diagnosed with leukemia just before her third birthday, and relapsed just before her 17th birthday. She had just turned 20 when she died in June 2011.”

Anne said she wanted to submit the photograph to House Organ because Elizabeth loved the annual “Pets of Vanderbilt” issue.

“Elizabeth looked forward to the pet issue every year, so I knew that I wanted to submit her picture,” Anne said. “One of the things I love about this picture is that beautiful smile. She maintained her smile and amazing attitude through everything. She brightened the day of everyone she came in contact with.”

Anne said that Jake and Elizabeth were a perfect pair (and that, since Jake wasn’t allowed on the couch, the sly co-conspirators were getting away with something in their photo).

“There is nothing [Jake] loves more than for someone to be rubbing on him; something he and Elizabeth definitely had in common,” Anne said. “They were really a pair. Jake misses Elizabeth as much as we do.”

Read Wayne Wood's story about all the winning photographs.