P. Marietta Gross

[Age 62] The Baltimore nurse spent three years in Brazil visiting remote regions by mule to help deliver babies.

January 21, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,sun reporter

Phyllis Marietta Gross, a nurse who delivered babies in rural Brazil then returned to her native Baltimore to raise six children and work as a school nurse, died of an infection Tuesday at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. She was 62.

Born Phyllis Marietta Scally, Mrs. Gross, who was called "Marietta," grew up in Charles Village. From her girlhood home, she could hear the crowds cheering at Memorial Stadium and walk to Mass at SS. Philip and James Roman Catholic Church, said her husband, Charles E. "Ed" Gross of Parkville.

After graduating from Seton High School in 1962 and the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in 1965, Mrs. Gross spent three years delivering babies in Brazil with the Papal Volunteers. She lived in a small hut with another nurse and traveled through remote regions by horse or mule.

Except for letters from her mother with news of the Orioles, Mrs. Gross had little contact with the industrialized world during this time. "When she came back in '68, she didn't recognize a push button telephone or a pop-top beer can," her husband said.

She met her husband over dinner at a cousin's house soon after returning to Baltimore. They were married in 1969 and settled in Parkville.

She was a loving and creative mother who always had time to listen, son George Joseph Gross of DeWitt, N.Y., recalled. "I never remember my mom turning away or turning a deaf ear on me," he said. "I think she had a gift of reaching us where we were, and that never changed from us being 3 to being 30."

When her children had insomnia, she would lie down at the foot of the bed until they fell asleep, daughter Kathleen Meghan McCaughey of Baltimore said.

She kept the children busy racing to clean rooms of the house or kneading bread, and drove them around in a bright orange van.

"We could see her on the other end of the parking lot," Mrs. McCaughey said. "There was no missing her. She had to sit on a pillow to see over the steering wheel, but she had a big spirit."

In the mid-1980s, after her youngest child enrolled at the Immaculate Heart of Mary parochial school in Towson, Mrs. Gross began volunteering in the nurse's office. Over the years, she added more hours until she became employed as the full-time school nurse.

"She was a very faithful Christian woman, and she was very concerned about the children at the school," her husband said. "Kids would come to see her and sometimes they needed a hug and sometimes they needed a kick in the [pants], and she knew which was which."

In her free time, Mrs. Gross knitted and sewed clothes for her children and grandchildren. She made wedding dresses for several of her daughters.

"In some ways, I think she was kind of a feminist before there were feminists," her son said. "What I think of as the spirit of feminism - being strong and independent - I think that's a powerful thing that we've all taken with us."

A funeral Mass was offered yesterday at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Towson, where Mrs. Gross was a parishioner.

In addition to her husband, son and daughter, survivors include three other daughters, Carol Maureen Donovan of Bear, Del., Mary Eileen Gross of Parkville and Patricia Kayleen Reese of Catonsville; another son, Charles Patrick Gross of Parkville; two brothers, Michael Scally and Phillip Scally of Baltimore; three sisters, Sister Mary Margaret Scally of the Daughters of Charity of Fayetteville, N.C., Kathleen Plank of Knoxville, Tenn., and Rose Voeglein of Baltimore; and seven grandchildren.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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