Virginia Worthington Schardt, 44, professor

August 19, 2002|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,SUN STAFF

Virginia Worthington Schardt, a Towson University professor of kinesiology whose struggle with breast cancer was chronicled in June in The Sun, died Friday of complications of the disease at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. She was 44 and lived in Perry Hall.

Known to friends and family as "Ginny," Dr. Schardt inspired hundreds of students during her short career. She also left many awed by her unflagging optimism, humor, and dedication to the classroom, even as the disease spread to her bones to brain.

"She was even joking - I'll never forget that - something about the silly old tumors that wouldn't stop popping in her head," Kimberly Davis, a student of hers, remarked in the Sun article "A lot of people in her situation would stay home, but here she was still going and acting like everything's fine."

In the Govans neighborhood where she grew up, Dr. Schardt was known as one of the "Worthington girls," the second-eldest of six sisters living in small one-bathroom rowhouse.

"You tell that to anybody in Govans, they know exactly who you are," said her younger sister Kathy Worthington of Federal Hill.

Academics and athletics were an important part of her life from the start. Dr. Schardt attended St. Mary's School and the Institute of Notre Dame, where she was a star center on the school's basketball team. She graduated from Towson University and received a master's degree in psychology from Loyola College in 1983. Dr. Schardt spent the first 16 years of her career as a teacher and counselor at Howard Community College, helping students handicapped by self-doubt or poor academic records find successful careers.

"Ginny just felt like everybody had this wealth of potential," her sister said.

Many of her former students visited her bedside in the days before she died. One of them serenaded her with his guitar, family members said.

She met her future husband, Christopher, on a blind date, and they married in 1996. He introduced her to what became a new passion: collecting Elvis Presley and Beatles memorabilia. Between radiation treatments, she and her husband flew to London. She dodged traffic to snap her husband's photo as he crossed and recrossed Abbey Road - which is featured on the cover of the Beatles album of that name. Cancer treatments had left Dr. Schardt mostly bald but with a tuft of blond hair down the center - "a natural mohawk," her husband recalled.

She got a chuckle out of posing next to a wax mannequin of Mr. T at Madame Tussauds, her husband said. A few months after London, the couple trekked to Graceland.

"She just had the will to live," said Mr. Schardt, who is the general manager of Towson Town Center. "And she packed it full."

In December, despite regular hospital visits and bouts of illness, she received her doctorate in sports psychology at the University of Maryland, College Park.

"Most students would have given up," said Donald Steele, her thesis adviser. "Ginny never did."

Like others whose lives intersected with Dr. Schardt's over the years, Dr. Steele said he found himself enmeshed in her constantly expanding web of friends. Long after she left College Park, the two would continue to call one another, sometimes every week. Even when her illness confined her to a hospital bed, Dr. Schardt went to great lengths to keep teaching - at one point even negotiating with hospital staff for a spare room and shuttle bus so her students could come to her. Eventually, doctors relented and let her go to Towson to teach.

She defied the predictions of some of her doctors, who had said she wouldn't live until summer. "She was late for everything, so I guess she was just going to go out on her own terms like always - late," said her sister Joan Worthington of Phoenix.

In a final twist that family members say she would have appreciated, Dr. Schardt died on the same date as Elvis Presley. Amid their grief, her sisters couldn't help but chuckle when someone remarked in the moments after her death: "Now she's with the King."

A Mass of Christian burial is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church, 5502 York Road.

In addition to her husband and two sisters, Dr. Schardt is survived by a stepdaughter, Anna; three stepsons, Daniel, Nicholas, and Jonathan; her mother, Virginia Worthington of Govans; and three other sisters, Mary Delfosse of Upland, Calif., Margaret Prado of Raleigh, N.C., and Dana Weaver of The Woodlands, Texas.

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