Dr. Kathleen Galbraith, nursing professor and advocate of health education, dies

"Nothing was going to stop my mother from helping her students succeed," daughter says of Kathleen Galbraith.

Dr. Kathleen Galbraith, a longtime nursing professor in Baltimore who refused to let her students, many of them immigrants and working parents, be deterred by the barriers to an education — whether time, money, even border agents — died Tuesday at her home in Harford County.

Dr. Galbraith had suffered from seizures and heart failure. She died one day before her 68th birthday with the cake on the counter.

A tireless educator, she expanded nursing programs for working adults at the University of Baltimore and Morgan State University. She started weekend courses, won scholarships for students, and once traveled to Canada to help a foreign student cross the border, said her daughter, Allison Galbraith of Abingdon.

"Nothing was going to stop my mother from helping her students succeed," her daughter said.

Known as "Dr. G" around campuses, she would write the office of former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski when foreign students found their immigration status in jeopardy.

"A lot of professors would shy away from asking the international students their status," her daughter said. "She made it her business to know what was impacting their personal lives."

One former student, Caroline Mwangi, grew up in Kenya before earning bachelor's and master's degrees in nursing at Morgan State.

"Dr. G. was like a mother to us," said Mwangi, now a nurse in Northeast Baltimore. "She was really tough, especially when she was advocating for the school or the nursing program."

Kathleen Ann Galbraith was raised in Seaford, Del., as one of five children of Harold Hebeler, a DuPont physicist, and Kathleen Hebeler, who ran a ceramics shop. From early childhood, she showed a tendency toward action, whether marching down the street to sign up for ballet lessons — telling her parents afterward — or leading her sister out the window at night to meet some boys at the quarry.

"As you can imagine, our absence was noted," recalled the sister, Patricia Larrimore, an attorney in Bryn Mawr, Pa. "She just had such confidence, such energy. ... She was very much a take-charge person."

Dr. Galbraith's path into the sciences may have started in high school when she trained Thumper, the family rabbit, to eat dog food and won first-prize in the Delaware science fair for turning an herbivore into a carnivore. "Thumper did live for a number of years," her sister said.

Dr. Galbraith earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Villanova University and a master's from the University of Delaware. By the mid-1980s, she had married James Francis Galbraith Jr., a career English professor at Harford Community College, and she was raising their first two children while earning a doctorate in maternal- and child-health care from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The couple would have four children, and the difficulties of balancing school, work and motherhood would shape her career.

"She struggled so much to earn her own Ph.D., she wanted to make sure that anybody who wanted one could get it," her daughter said.

Dr. Galbraith taught nursing at Harford Community College before working for the state in the departments in Health and Mental Hygiene, Human Resources and the old Governor's Office of Children, Youth and Families. She worked to expand options for new mothers with flexible and part-time positions.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Galbraith began work at the University of Baltimore and helped establish an accelerated bachelor's program in health administration. A few years later, she expanded it into a flexible graduate program for working students. She would continue to speak out about the problems in the field: a lack of diversity among nurses, unequal costs and access to health care.

Dr. Galbraith shared her ideas with Morgan State and was hired as the director of nursing around 2008. She secured state grants to start undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing, often urging her students, "The best degree is a completed one." She worked tirelessly to find financial aid for them. Those whose applications were blemished by a single failing grade would be offered second chances.

Dr. Galbraith also spent years restoring the historic Chambers House in Bel Air, which she bought with her husband in the early 1970s. It was the lone home built before World War II on a stretch of Franklin Street in Bel Air. She embraced the renovations with her typical gusto, relocating the kitchen, refinishing the floors, repairing the plaster walls.

"Nothing was going to stand in her way," he daughter said.

A house fire forced the family to move in 2000, and they rented homes in the area before settling in Joppa in 2004. There Dr. Galbraith remained until her death.

She retired last year, but remained strong in her convictions, whether speaking out about education, tackling home improvement projects, even admonishing her grown daughter for a new tattoo. She spotted it on the way home from the hospital in 2015, Allison Galbraith remembered, laughing.

"She was a handful, a feisty lady," her daughter said with affection.

Funeral services will be held 9:30 a.m. Monday at Saint Margaret Church in Bel Air.

In addition to her husband, sister and daughter, Dr. Galbraith is survived by daughters Kathleen Emami of Bethesda, and Caroline Galbraith of Joppa; son James Galbraith III of Parkville; brothers Bruce Hebeler of Oregon and Stephen Hebeler of Florida; and four grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her brother, Laurence Hebeler of Buffalo.

tprudente@baltsun.com

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