Gail M. Hart, 64, director of cancer support group

November 24, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Gail M. Hart, who spent more than a decade directing the Baltimore Cancer Support Group before she developed breast cancer, died at Good Samaritan Hospital Nov. 17. She was 64 and had struggled with the disease since 2001.

Born Gail Margaret Martin in Baltimore and raised in Perry Hall, she graduated in 1959 from Kenwood High School, where she was a member of the Honor Society. She attended what is now Towson University and received a secretarial diploma from the Bard Avon School.

After her marriage to Chauncey "Bill" Hart, a former Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. supervisor, she moved to Parkville and became chairwoman of the Perry Hall Jayceettes. She was an office assistant to Dr. Francis W. Traynor and later worked in a dental office.

Mrs. Hart became interested in a health support group at Fullerton Lutheran Church, where she was a congregant.

It evolved into the Baltimore Cancer Support Group, an organization dedicated to helping cancer patients, caregivers and the bereaved. When its founder moved out of state in 1990, Mrs. Hart became executive director. She held that job until two years ago and oversaw the addition of Dundalk and Westminster groups.

"She had formidable organizational skills," said Sandra P. Gohn, an attorney and board chairwoman of the support group. "She became its heart. ... She was calming, accepting, honest and empathetic, but not sentimental."

Colleagues said Mrs. Hart became the facilitator for sessions at which participants typically spoke about their fears and angers.

"They would say they were mad at God," said Ms. Gohn. "Part of her job, and her gift, was to help people move through the states of their disease. She had so much love, she could see a potential you didn't think you had."

Mrs. Hart attended seminars given by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the psychiatrist who studied the process of dying and wrote the widely known book, On Death and Dying.

"She really found herself in these talks and seminars," her husband said yesterday. "She discovered who she was in this process, and always looked for the positive in people."

"As a group facilitator, she was always able, and always available, not only to provide advice on patient advocacy issues, but also to guide families through the emotional turmoil a cancer diagnosis brings," Ms. Gohn said.

"Gail had the ability to look inside you and see potential that you couldn't see yourself. Then she helped you grow and realize that potential," said Karen Haughey, leader of the Westminster site of the Baltimore Cancer Support Group.

In early 2001, after more than a decade of helping others, physicians told Mrs. Hart she had breast cancer. Despite surgery and radiation treatments, the cancer returned two years ago.

"Throughout this time, she exemplified the courage, dignity and honesty she had drawn out of other people," Ms. Gohn said.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, 7910 Belair Road in Fullerton.

Other survivors include a son, Chauncey "Chuck" Hart Jr. of Pylesville, a Baltimore County Police Department sergeant; her mother, Pauline Bell of Parkville; and two grandsons. Another son, Kevin H. M. Hart, died in 2003.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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