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GBMC Volunteer Joins Yaggy Society with Campaign Gift

January 27, 2022
Shirley Lewis’ life is marked by music. It’s how she met her husband; it’s how she made a living; and it’s how she has chosen to give back to her community, as a Spiritual Support Services volunteer at GBMC.

“I started in Spiritual Support because the lady who was playing the organ was getting too old, which is a laugh because I’m 90 now and I’m still doing it,” Shirley said. “They knew me through church connections, and that I substituted on the organ at various churches. I alternated with another woman, and we played the organ in the GBMC chapel on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

Prior to being asked to play GBMC’s organ, Shirley became involved with door-to-door fundraising and community engagement to help what was then “the new county hospital” get started, thanks to a recommendation from her aunt. It is fitting then that she is involved in GBMC’s current fundraising effort.

Shirley recently contributed a charitable gift annuity in support of The Promise Project. Charitable gift annuities are gifts that provide an income tax deduction in the year of the gift and a generous lifetime income stream to the donor. GBMC has welcomed Shirley into the prestigious Elizabeth Duncan Yaggy Society, reserved for those who include provisions in their estate plans to benefit GBMC.

The Promise Project, when complete, will include a new three-story inpatient facility in front of what has been GBMC’s main entrance since 1965. Shirley looks forward to playing GBMC’s grand piano in the new atrium and chapel as well as seeing the construction of 60 new and larger patient rooms. When she recalls her time with her son during his final days in the hospital, she notes that while larger rooms wouldn’t have changed the outcome, it would have made her son’s stay a bit easier.

“I’m glad we’re going to have bigger rooms, because my son was in one of those little rooms where you just about had room to stand by the side of the bed. It was not very big, especially for a visit on Christmas day,” Shirley said.

During her son’s lengthy hospital stay, when she was tasked with playing the organ, Shirley would often ask her son for hymn requests that the whole hospital would hear, but he would know were especially for him.

Shirley had been a music study since the age of 5 when a Peabody teacher, Eugenia Arnold Ruth, visited her home on Wolfe Street. Shirley played piano, took singing lessons and later in life began to play the organ with teachers Richard Wegner and George Woodhead. Her late husband, Wm. Albert Lewis, who passed away in 1989, was a tenor soloist behind her in the choir. They married in 1950.

As a young mother in Baltimore City, Shirley offered private lessons to a neighborhood boy recovering from an injury. When word got around her neighborhood, other mothers wanted Shirley to teach their children, as well. At one time, she had 22 pupils.

Today, Shirley plays piano on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the GBMC lobby. She credits the origins of this music ministry to GBMC Chaplain, the Rev. Joe Hart. It was Hart who first approached Shirley with a request to play the piano, years ago, after a generous benefactor donated the grand piano to GBMC. Now, in addition to Shirley, five other pianists complete this robust program.

“Music reaches people,” Shirley said. “Sometimes I don’t feel like I do enough as a GBMC volunteer, but I have so many people who tell me music makes a difference and they thank me. I minister to a lot of people through music. I know it reaches people when nothing else does.”

Shirley is thoughtful in her musical selections while she plays piano during her volunteer hours. For example, she will play Christmas music during the holiday season or military songs for veterans.

“They would give me the high sign as they came through the lobby because I was playing their song and people would come up and say, ‘That was my husband’s favorite song.’ That makes me feel good,” Shirley said.

Shirley has touched the lives of many inside and outside of GBMC through her music and will continue to do so with her philanthropy and volunteerism.

“The volunteers are a really good group of people,” Shirley said. “Everybody is there because they care about volunteering. And I think the volunteers are treated really wonderfully. GBMC certainly does take care of their volunteers, and when I go to other hospitals, I always think ours is better.”

GBMC is the best because of volunteers and generous benefactors like Shirley Lewis.
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