CONWAY, AR–Martha Deaver’s office sits at the end of a gallery of photographs of her grandchildren on the second floor of a neat and cozy home nestled in a residential neighborhood in Conway, Arkansas.
Against one wall are yellow signs that look like oversized place mats with green letters urging people to “protect the rights of nursing home residents” that have appeared at annual rallies at the state capitol for the past dozen years. Elsewhere in the room stands a small wooden elephant, trunk raised as if ready to emit a roar. Near the entrance is a framed puzzle put together by a nursing home resident of a young woman with dark eyeshadow, a rose dangling from her mouth.
Deaver’s sturdy desk contains pictures of her receiving an award from the nation’s largest nursing homes advocacy group and shaking hands with then-FBI director Robert Muller-reminders of the national recognition she has earned in the past 10 years.
It is at the desk that Deaver has, for decades, requested inspection reports from government officials, fielded calls from whistleblower employees, counseled family members, cajoled lawyers, hectored legislators, said “Let me say this” countless times, and fought with every fiber of her being to educate the public and protect nursing home residents who often literally have no voice.
But if the desk is the office’s nerve center, its emotional heart is a stand-alone, framed black and white portrait of Helen Steger, Deaver’s mother.