Lillie Mae Gregory, 80, nurse's aide, volunteer

March 01, 2002|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Lillie Mae Gregory, a mother of eight who lived most of her 80 years in West Baltimore and spent her life helping others, died of cancer Sunday at Bon Secours Hospital.

When she saw teen-agers dealing drugs in her neighborhood, she delivered meals and sermons to them. Long after she had retired as a nurse's aide, she visited nursing home patients and crocheted blankets for them. The week before she was hospitalized with lung cancer, she took a bus to a clinic to collect a brace for a neighbor.

"Every time somebody calls, we hear another story of something my mother did for somebody," said daughter Drexel Braxton of Baltimore.

The only child of North Carolina sharecroppers, Mrs. Gregory moved to Baltimore with her parents during the Great Depression. She joined the staff at Montebello State Hospital shortly after graduating from Douglass High School and worked there as a nurse's assistant for 32 years. She left the job to help a daughter through Coppin State College.

"I told my mother that I wanted to go to Coppin and become a teacher," said Ms. Braxton. "She took a housekeeping job at the college so she could get a discount on my tuition. It was important to her that all of us have a full life and that we all did the best we could."

Ms. Braxton has been teaching in Baltimore City schools for 18 years and is on the faculty of the Claremont School on Erdman Avenue.

After her daughter's graduation, Mrs. Gregory was drawn back to nursing. In her 60s, she enrolled at the Community College of Baltimore and earned her nurse's aide certificate in the mid-1980s.

"She graduated with honors and went right back into nursing until she retired" about 10 years ago, said Ms. Braxton.

Mrs. Gregory was a "jack of all trades," said her daughter. "She could build a wall, make a fantastic meal and sew anything." And, she loved to entertain her children and grandchildren.

"On her days off, she would sing to us, read to us and put on shows for us," said Ms. Braxton. "She was such a dynamo when she danced with my older brother. She called it `cutting the rug.'"

Mrs. Gregory collected cookbooks, always kept two sewing machines and used an exercise bike almost daily. She never owned a car. If she could not walk to her destination, she took the bus.

"She was fiercely independent, still taking the bus places until the day before she died," said Ms. Braxton. "She never sat still and she never told any of us that she was ill, until a few weeks ago. She had arranged her whole funeral and had me take her to the market last week to prepare for a big meal for all her friends and family, a meal she knew she would not be here for."

Mrs. Gregory was married to Henry Thomas Gregory, a World War II veteran and a truck driver who died in 1945. Her marriage to Howard White ended in divorce.

A lifelong Baptist and an avid student of the Bible, Mrs. Gregory visited many area churches "but never locked herself down to one," said Ms. Braxton.

"She fellowshipped wherever her heart led her and tithed wherever she attended church," said her daughter. "She was not a religious fanatic, but she was really spiritual."

Services will be at 11:30 a.m. today at Joseph L. Russ Funeral Home, 2222 W. North Ave.

In addition to Ms. Braxton, she is survived by a son, Manamus Gregory of Baltimore; three other daughters, Phyllis MacArthur and Sylvia Sims, both of Baltimore, and Brenda Foster of Prince Edward County, Va.; 21 grandchildren; and 30 great-grandchildren.

She was predeceased by three sons: Clarence Gregory died in 2000, Donald Gregory died in 1970, and Charles Stanton Daniels died in 1972.

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