Salvatore Gugilizza, 102, oldest patient at Springfield Hospital Center in Carroll

November 01, 1998|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Jackie Powder contributed to this article.

Salvatore Gugilizza, the oldest patient at Springfield Hospital Center in Sykesville whose gentle ways and many kindnesses touched staff and patients, died there Monday of pneumonia. He was 102.

Mr. Gugilizza, who was also the oldest patient in the state's entire psychiatric health system, was admitted to Springfield in 1929, then a 32-year-old Italian immigrant who had been diagnosed with dementia praecox -- the former term for schizophrenia.

His life there spanned the eras from the days when mental hospitals seemed little more than "snake pits" or "lunatic asylums" to a time of anti-psychotic drugs to manage mental illness and programs bringing the mentally ill back into their communities and productive lives.

Born in Sicily, he emigrated to Baltimore in 1916 and he settled with his sister's family in a rowhouse at Sharp and Camden streets.

"My father was teaching him to be a cabinet maker, and all of a sudden his mind just snapped on him," said his nephew, Joseph G. Vinci, who had visited his uncle every Sunday at Springfield for 60 years.

Mr. Gugilizza, a small man with a shock of snow-white hair and nearly toothless grin, made a life for himself at Springfield, going to Mass every Sunday, carrying the trash to the Dumpster each morning and acting as recycling manager for Freedom House, the two-story brick cottage where he had lived since 1990 with 40 other patients.

When he was finished with the trash, he turned his attention to pulling weeds, picking up errant cigarette butts and doing other odd jobs.

When his chores were finished, "Sammy," as he was known, would sit and feed the birds with rolls saved from his dinner.

He continued his routine until earlier this month when he became ill.

"Everybody at Springfield, both staff and patients, are just so sad about the loss of Sammy," said Paula Langmead, hospital superintendent. "I think he garnered in each of us a special place in our hearts, and he'll always be there."

She added, "He showed us how to take even an institutional life and make it a very full and happy one."

"I have an image of Sammy walking down the street wearing his straw hat and sweater and carrying a bag of recycling cans," Ms. Langmead said. "And I'll always remember him breaking into the little dance that he would do."

"He was always saying, 'Me not from here, me from Sicily.' I'm really going to miss that," said Jessica Garner, a licensed practical nurse at Freedom House.

Deeply religious, Mr. Gugilizza enjoyed showing visitors the crucifix on his wall and his Bible. Despite being able to read and write English, he preferred reading the Bible in Italian and spoke English with a pronounced Italian accent.

"His death is like losing a family member. We're an extremely close-knit group here in Freedom House," said Donna Cowan, the unit's head nurse.

Mr. Gugilizza enjoyed dressing up in a suit and Panama hat and attending dances at the hospital's senior center.

Independent and able to care for himself, he told The Sun in a 1995 interview, "I take care of myself. I'm not disabled; I'm normal."

Despite being eligible to live in a supervised group home or nursing facility, Mr. Gugilizza would become fearful and anxious when confronted with that option. Springfield had been his home for six decades, and it was decided by hospital authorities that moving him might end his life.

"When he was brought back from Northwest Medical Center, he said he wanted to die at Springfield because it was his home. And he got his wish," said Linda McCusker, director of nursing.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the chapel at Springfield Hospital Center on Route 32.

In addition to his nephew, he is survived by two nieces, Ann M. Krigor and Angelina Whalen, both of Catonsville, and several grandnephews and grandnieces.

Pub Date: 11/01/98

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