Hazel McWilliams, 95, housekeeper

July 05, 2005|By Jason Song | Jason Song,SUN STAFF

Hazel M. McWilliams, a domestic worker who searched for her sister for almost 75 years before finally meeting her in 1990, died Saturday of complications from pneumonia at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Towson resident was 95.

Miss McWilliams was left on the doorstep of St. Vincent's Orphanage in Allegany County around 1912 with her younger sister, Loretta. Miss McWilliams was about 3 years old and her sister was 3 or 4 months old, said Rose Muller of Mebane, N.C., the daughter of Loretta Shaffer, Miss McWilliams' sister.

Loretta was quickly adopted and moved to Harrisburg, Pa., with her adoptive parents. Miss McWilliams was never adopted and was bounced from orphanage to orphanage until she was nearly 18 years old. "Many a time I cried in corners," she said in a 1990 Sun article. "The other people had company and visitors to come, and I had no one."

After completing high school, Miss McWilliams began working as a housekeeper and domestic worker. About that time, she found out she had a sister, said Mrs. Muller. But St. Vincent's Orphanage was destroyed in a fire, and Miss McWilliams could not find many records about her sister.

The two sisters spent "a lot of time questioning whether the other was alive," Mrs. Muller said.

Miss McWilliams spent most of her time working for Baltimore County families. She cared for Mary Waburn, a paraplegic Catonsville resident, for about a decade starting in the mid-1970s, said Ms. Waburn's sister, Ruth Bare.

"She devoted her life to helping other people," Ms. Bare said.

Even when Miss McWilliams moved into Pickersgill Retirement Community in Towson, she would occasionally call Bare and tell her, "I wish I could be there and help her again," Ms. Bare said.

Miss McWilliams assisted other residents of the retirement home, walking with them to doctor's appointments, making beds and gardening.

In the late 1980s, a student intern at Pickersgill began writing letters and making phone calls to try to find Miss McWilliams' sister. The intern eventually found Mrs. Shaffer, who still lived in Harrisburg.

The two sisters were reunited June 22, 1990, at Pickersgill Retirement Community and discovered they both enjoyed spaghetti and chocolate ice cream. The two also wore almost identical glasses.

"This is like a fairy tale," Mrs. Shaffer said at the time.

Mrs. Muller visited her aunt several times. "She would take us on tours of the home, and she walked so fast my husband and I couldn't keep up with her," Mrs. Muller said.

The breakneck tours never included the elevator. "She hated it, so she would walk up the stairs as fast as she could," Mrs. Muller said.

When Miss McWilliams visited her sister, she would inevitably clean, Mrs. Muller said. The first time she saw her sister's house, Miss McWilliams got her apron out and started scrubbing the stove.

"There was a particular way she liked to do things," Mrs. Muller said.

The two sisters talked frequently on the phone and visited until Mrs. Shaffer's death in 2001.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road in Towson.

In addition to her niece, Miss McWilliams is survived by another niece, Sandra Shaffer of Harrisburg, Pa.

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