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Shirley Hines.
Shirley Hines. (Kent Harris / S&S)

VICENZA, Italy — In the first week of December, Shirley Hines will leave one family she knows very well for another one she doesn’t.

Hines, director of the Mediterranean hub of the American Red Cross, is retiring from the organization after 33 years “to pursue other things.”

“I don’t know what those other things are right now,” she says with a laugh.

One thing for sure is she will be spending time with her family in Florida.

“My brothers and sisters are in their 70s and 80s,” she says. “I didn’t grow up with them, so I don’t know them as well as I’d like. I want to spend more time with them.”

The American Red Cross has served as Hines’ other family.

“All of my adult life has either been spent in school or with the Red Cross,” she says.

As a new college graduate, Hines decided to take a one-year tour with the organization in South Korea. That was 1970. Fighting between the Koreas was long over.

That wasn’t the case with her next assignment: Vietnam.

Hines spent a year there as a recreation worker, visiting soldiers in hospitals and running hourlong programs that soldiers participated in during their designated breaks.

“It was just something to take the soldiers’ minds off the war,” Hines said of the activities, which included contests like “Name That Tune.”

She’s got lasting memories from that year, including those hospital visits.

She recalls flying over jungles in the morning, then flying back later to see virtually nothing left after the devastation of war. Memories of soldiers she met who later died in battle still bring tears to her eyes.

Hines said as a 22-year-old, she knew people were dying, but never really thought she would be one of them — though she did have a few close calls.

“It wasn’t the same [feeling] 20 years later when I was headed to Desert Storm,” she says.

But before that eight-month tour in Saudi Arabia, Hines worked other assignments around the world. She’s had several in the Pacific — including stints in Japan and the Philippines.

She was in the country when the Marcos family was removed from power. She smiles when she talks about a trip she sponsored for American youth to the dictator’s former residence and seeing all the shoes, sunglasses and fur coats.

She’s had two stints in Germany — Stuttgart and Mannheim — and been in Vicenza for the last two years. At Caserma Ederle, she’s responsible for the organization’s operations in countries such as Italy, Spain, Turkey and Bahrain.

Hines says she’d definitely do it all over again if given the option.

“The travel has just been incredible,” she says. “The people I’ve met … the things I’ve done. … Growing up in a little town [in Florida], I would never have thought I’d meet the empress of Japan — three times.”

Hines’ last day is Dec. 4. Darleen Sehorn, currently stationed at McChord Air Force Base, takes over the next day.

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