In the 1950s, Sister Georgette Bayless wore a white habit, head to toe. Decades later, she put on black leather biker gear and hopped on the back of a motorcycle for an Angel Ride, a fund-raiser for Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County.
The organization owes its existence to the tenacious nun. She championed the creation of a local hospice, and in 1978 was its co-founder.
“You could say no, but she wouldn’t give up. She was very persuasive,” said Dr. Art Gerdes, a retired radiation oncologist. Along with Bayless and other doctors, Gerdes also was involved in starting hospice care in Snohomish County. “We would not be here had it not been for her,” said Gerdes, who lives in Edmonds.
A Sister of Providence for 71 years, Bayless died Sept. 25 in Seattle. She was 94.
Bayless was in Everett earlier this year to tour a new inpatient Providence Hospice unit before it opened. The $5.3 million facility is on the eighth floor of the A wing at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s Colby campus. It was a goal and a dream come true for Bayless. Since the 1970s, she had worked to help families coping with loved ones’ end-of-life needs.
“She had always wanted the care center,” said Lori Hermansen, director of Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County. At the celebration, Bayless toured the rooms with several other nuns. “She just had a glow about her, and a huge smile,” Hermansen said.
Since the unit’s opening this spring, about 80 patients have been served there, Hermansen said. The agency has helped some 300 patients in the community this year.
The last years of Bayless’ life were spent at the Sisters of Providence St. Joseph Residence in West Seattle, but she maintained strong Snohomish County connections. In 1980, after Everett’s Rape Relief Center struggled for volunteers and funding, Bayless pushed to start the Providence Sexual Assault Center. Before retiring from active ministry in 1995, she was director of pastoral care at what’s now Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.
Gerdes recalled that in 1977, he practiced radiation oncology at Everett’s Providence Hospital. It wasn’t long after he met Bayless, then a hospital chaplain, that she urged him to help establish a hospice program.
The concept of helping people die in comfort at home was “kind of a new thing,” Gerdes said. “She had observed people in significant need in the last months of their life.”
Gerdes said Drs. Randy Trowbridge, Paul Knoll and Jeff Ward also played key roles in establishing a hospice. He recalled one of Bayless’ not-so-subtle ways of pushing for the inpatient unit. At meetings, he said, “she would put on a hard hat and walk around. She didn’t have to tell us what that meant — look folks, we’ve got to get busy and get this facility.”
As a close friend of Bayless, Gerdes knew her to be unfailingly compassionate. “I never saw her harsh or critical or angry — just determined,” he said.
Scott Forslund, executive director of the Providence Institute for a Healthier Community, said the institute’s annual ChangeMaker Awards are bestowed “in Sister Georgette’s honor.” He plans to seek the blessing of the Sisters of Providence to rename the honor as the “Changemaker Award, inspired by the life and memory of Sister Georgette Bayless.”
Born in San Jose, California, Bayless was the middle child of seven. She was 21 in 1944 when she entered the Roman Catholic Sisters of Providence. Trained as a nurse, her first ministry was as nursing supervisor at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Yakima. She served at Providence hospitals in Washington, Alaska and Oregon.
“She was just a very dynamic person,” said Jennifer Roseman, director of communications and development with the Sisters of Providence Mother Joseph Province. “She was always about getting something done. She would say, ‘You can get a lot done if you don’t worry about getting the credit.’ That was so her.”
She was driven by faith. Interviewed for this column in 2005, before a celebration of her 60th anniversary as a Sister of Providence, Bayless talked about being compelled to serve. She recalled how long ago, before becoming a nun, she often looked at a Latin phrase displayed in the auditorium at Providence College of Nursing in Oakland, California.
“Caritas Christi urget nos” — the love of Christ compels us — was the phrase. “That struck me, the love of Christ,” Bayless said in 2005. Wondering what to do with her life, Bayless said, “I decided I would like to give to other people.”
Sister Judith Desmarais, provincial superior of the Sisters of Providence Mother Joseph Province, said that throughout her life Bayless did everything with love.
“She was always present to you,” Desmarais said. “She was dedicated to those who needed help most.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sisters of Providence have scheduled services for Sister Georgette Bayless, who died Sept. 25. A vigil service will be held at 7 p.m. Monday and a funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, both at St. Joseph Residence, 4800 37th Ave. SW, Seattle. Burial at Calvary Cemetery in Seattle will follow the Mass and reception.
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