Nancy Rivard lost her 54-year-old father suddenly to bladder cancer on Christmas Eve 1983. "I wondered what life was about that it could be taken from us like that," she recalls. "I began to evaluate where I was going."
Nancy purposely got herself demoted from the management track at American Airlines and went to work as a flight attendant. With low-cost travel passes and a flexible schedule, she toured around the world, searching for a calling -- for healing. "I kept asking, how can I make a difference?" she says. That pursuit of service eventually led her to becoming World Woman of Peace in 1999.
On paper, one could rant and rave about the work that Nancy has inspired, about how she was on the back cover of Reader's Digest, is a Rotary fellow, was recognized as an Ambassador for Peace and so on, but to know her is to really to meet her, to share her presence, and to hear her stories.
Extensive travel on a personal quest for meaning engendered in her a deep desire to serve humanity and a new vision for the travel industry. She lived with the Hopi Indians, adopted a girl in Sri Lanka, spent a month in the high Andes, and searched for spiritual teachers in Thailand, Africa, India, the Philippines and the former USSR. Nancy also organized the first 'Wisdom Keepers Conference' with leaders from all major traditions to share a space of unity; today, that conference is one of the biggest international inter-faith activities.
At one point, looking for a way that she could use her job as a flight attendant to make a difference, Nancy Rivard began collecting sample-size hotel soaps and shampoos from her co-workers and delivering them to Bosnian refugees. The recipients were so grateful, they had tears of thankfulness and joy in their eyes. Inspiration built on inspiration, and soon, Nancy developed a network of volunteers she called Airline Ambassadors.
The idea was this: volunteers could deliver medical supplies, school materials and plain old love to needy children in the United States and abroad, travelling at the same low fares airline employees receive. "I knew that if I could expose people to the types of helping experiences I'd had, they would find the same joy and fulfillment," she says. Since 1996, more than 3000 volunteers have delivered over $6 million worth of donated food, toys, and blankets, clothing and other supplies to Guatemala, Haiti, Nicaragua, El Salvador and elsewhere.
"Nancy told me I've got to stop being surprised by this," says flight attendant Rambacher. "When you do good work, doors keep opening."