Elizabeth "Betty" Scheurer was practically unflappable.

As a pioneer in critical care nursing for open-heart surgery patients and a mother of four whose husband frequently traveled as a musician with the Minneapolis Symphony, Scheurer was an adept problem-solver and calmly faced whatever was thrown at her, family and friends said. Through it all, she remained focused on improving the days of everyone around her.

Scheurer, of Minneapolis, died Dec. 6 at the age of 88.

Elizabeth Newberg was a nursing student when she cared for a patient named Fritz Scheurer, who told his friend right away that he was going to marry her, family members said. Indeed, they ended up eloping within a year.

While Fritz Scheurer went on to become principal bass in the symphony, Betty Scheurer was tapped to work with Dr. C. Walton Lillehei as he pioneered open-heart surgery methods at the University of Minnesota in the 1950s.

"The concept of intensive care units hadn't been developed yet. They would have private-duty nurses come in," the couple's daughter Liz Scheurer said. Cardiac surgeons soon requested Betty Scheurer's nursing expertise, her daughter said.

While she was mechanically inclined and studied the groundbreaking medical work, Betty Scheurer blended science with personal care for the patient and the patient's family, those who knew her said.

After working for a private nursing agency early in her career, Scheurer worked at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.

"She was a terrific patient-oriented nurse who led by example," said Dr. Joseph Kiser, a retired cardiac surgeon at Abbott Northwestern. "There's a tremendous number of technical things in caring for cardiac patients. ... It's a very complicated process and she was a master at it."

Scheurer won the national John Wilson Rodgers Art of Nursing Award from the American Association of Critical Care Nurses in 1988.

As she was set to retire at the end of 1995, Scheurer reflected on her long career in a column by the Star Tribune's Jim Klobuchar, who had been one of her patients.

"I think the human being's greatest yearning, the most gratifying part of life, is to be needed. It's what nursing has given me," she said. "I have this opportunity to affect the quality of the day of people in my care. And I think I learned pretty early that if I can't make the patient's family comfortable, I can't do that for the patient. Recovery isn't just the patient receiving care. It's what the patient gets from the family and how they face this together. The psychology of it, the mental and emotional part, is so critical."

Family members said she was a loving mother with an unwitting sense of humor. She worked her nursing schedule around her husband's concert schedule, spending a lot of time with her children. She often invited visiting doctors from other countries to join the family during holidays.

"She would make everyone feel at home," daughter Constance Scheurer said.

A frugal child of the Great Depression, Betty Scheurer gave her children a penny for making their beds, then helped them deposit the money in the bank so they would learn to save, Constance Scheurer said.

In retirement, she was active in her faith community, organizing volunteer service days and visiting shut-ins.

Betty Scheurer faced several tragedies in her life. She cared for her husband on dialysis for a few years before he died in 1971. Her two adult sons, Karl and Frederick, passed away in the mid-2000s.

Besides her two daughters, Scheurer is survived by one granddaughter and two great-grandsons. Services will be held at 3 p.m. Jan. 6 at Bethlehem Lutheran Church, 4100 Lyndale Ave. S, in Minneapolis. Visitation will begin at 2 p.m.