Louis Bassett, whose rector described him as a "gentle soul" who devoted his life to the care and needs of patients at James Lawrence Kernan Hospital, died Monday of a stroke at Northampton Manor Nursing Home in Frederick. He was 81.
Mr. Bassett, known as "Whitey," came to the hospital near Dickeyville as an orphan of 14 and remained there for the rest of his life, working as an orderly.
A familiar figure dressed in his hospital whites until retiring in 1982, Mr. Bassett continued living on the grounds of Kernan's until he entered the Odd Fellows Home in 1992. He moved to Northampton Manor when his health began to fail.
Little is known of the circumstances surrounding Mr. Bassett's arrival at the hospital, said his friend and guardian, William Neill III, the hospital's chief of physical therapy.
"He worked for me for nearly 40 years, and it wasn't until I saw 'Forrest Gump,' that I realized that Whitey was a lot like Forrest," Mr. Neill said. "He was the same kind of person, who possessed nothing but simple gentleness and kindness for others."
Mr. Bassett, who was a reliable and hard worker, helped transport patients, cleaned whirlpool units and often would spend his evenings in the children's ward cheering a lonely or fearful child.
"In the old days when a child with polio would be here for two or more years, he would keep them happy in the evenings telling them stories," Mr. Neill said.
"Thousands of people got to know Whitey. Not only was he admired by the patients but he was deeply loved by the staff."
Charles B. Reeves Jr., chairman of Kernan's trustees, said, "We always talk about the Kernan family, and Whitey certainly was the personification of its special spirit. He was a very lovely and understanding person."
The Rev. Robert F. Butehorn, rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Woodlawn, where Mr. Bassett was an active communicant, said, "Whitey had been a member of the vestry and very active in the church. I think Kernan's and St. Mary's were the two most important things in his life."
Father Butehorn remembered him for his "jolly disposition" and his devotion to the church. "Whenever you turned around, Whitey was always there," he said.
Mary McCurdy, a communicant and volunteer at the church, said Mr. Bassett enjoyed dressing up at Christmas and playing Santa Claus, driving older women from the congregation who needed a ride to go shopping or to bingo, and attending meetings of the Woodlawn Seniors.
Active in the Odd Fellows, Mr. Bassett enjoyed motor trips and playing cards.
Services will be at 10:30 a.m. today at St. Mary's Episcopal Church of Woodlawn, 5610 Dogwood Road.
Mr. Bassett is survived by a special friend, Henrietta Hayes of East Baltimore.