Ruth E. Eger, the former executive director of the Joseph Richey Hospice who lectured widely on death and dying, died June 9 of pneumonia at Saint Agnes Hospital. She had just celebrated her 80th birthday.
"Ruth was the most spirited and positive-thinking person. No problem was so big that we couldn't grow and learn from it, and she found that in everybody," said Catherine M. Frome, who was named clinical director of the Joseph Richey Hospice in April.
"She turned Joseph Richey Hospice around and made its finances viable in order to care for the underserved in Baltimore," said Ms. Frome.
The daughter of Joseph Eger, a homebuilder, and Mary Parks Eger, a homemaker, Ruth Elizabeth Eger was born and raised in Grosse Point, Mich., and graduated in 1952 from Dominican High School in Detroit.
Her interest in nursing began when she was 15 and volunteered as a member of the Junior Guild at Bon Secours Hospital in Grosse Point. She began her formal nursing training in 1952 at the Bon Secours Hospital School of Nursing in Baltimore, from which she earned her nursing degree in 1955.
Ms. Eger began her nursing career at the Bon Secours Hospital in Grosse Point. In 1956, she returned to Baltimore, where she entered the Sisters of Bon Secours and took the religious name of Sister Mary Ann.
She returned to her order's hospital in Grosse Point, where she rose to supervisor of the emergency room, outpatient department and intensive care unit.
Ms. Eger moved to Baltimore in 1961 and worked at Bon Secours Hospital, where she was a supervisor, night-duty charge nurse, and directed the Pinkie Program for young volunteers. She became supervisor in 1963 of the obstetrical and maternity nurses.
In 1963, Ms. Eger professed her vows in Paris and returned to Bon Secours Hospital in Baltimore, where she was a head nurse. While continuing to work at the hospital, she entered the University of Maryland, College Park in 1965, and was a cum laude graduate when she earned her bachelor's degree two years later.
"In addition to the University of Maryland in order to earn her degree in two years, she also studied at Mount St. Agnes College and [University of Maryland] University College," said Marjean C. Irwin, whose husband, Dr. Robert C. Irwin, was chief of pediatrics at Bon Secours and a founder in 1986 of the Joseph Richey House.
In 1967, Ms. Eger entered the University of Maryland School of Social Work, where she earned her master's degree.
In the early 1970s, she worked at the University of Maryland Medical Center as director of social work and in 1972, she became director of social work at Kernan Hospital near Dickeyville, where she worked with both patients and families.
She also taught a graduate-level course in death and dying in the theology department of Catholic University of America in Washington and at St. Mary's Seminary & University in Roland Park.
Ms. Eger, who left her order in 1975, was named executive director of the Joseph Richey Hospice in 1994, a position she held until 2007, when she stepped down after suffering a stroke.
During her tenure at the hospice in the 800 block of N. Eutaw St., Ms. Eger expanded the facility from 12 to 20 beds, and eliminated its indebtedness. She increased the staff from 20 to 56 employees.
"Ruth has attracted over $6 million in grant funding to the Joseph Richey House," said a 2007 anniversary profile published by the hospice.
"More important, Ruth has consistently seen that the hospice holds true to its mission, serving those without means, without discrimination, or regard to ability to pay, especially those who are alone or lack an able caregiver in the home," according to the profile.
Ms. Eger was also one of the chief fundraisers for Dr. Bob's Place: A Hospice for Children, which is next door to the Joseph Richey House and under its administration.
"I worked with her for 12 years. I answered the phones, was an admission clerk, and payroll clerk," said Ms. Frome, "but it was Ruth who pushed me into going to nursing school."
After earning her nursing degree, Ms. Frome became assistant head nurse at the hospice during Ms. Eger's tenure.
"Ruth could talk to anybody about anything, and she enjoyed sitting down and having a conversation with the patients. They just loved her," said Ms. Frome.
Ms. Eger, a former longtime Columbia resident, had in recent years lived at the Charlestown retirement community.
"Her whole life was spent helping other people. She was generous and giving, and worked hard all of her life," said Mrs. Irwin.
"She wanted to help people improve their lives. If a person needed a job, she'd find them one. If a person wanted to finish school, she'd help them accomplish that," she said. "Ruth was the kind of person who'd go out at midnight if someone needed help."
A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday in Our Lady of the Angels Chapel at Charlestown, 711 Maiden Choice Lane.
Ms. Eger is survived by a sister, Mary Fritz of Cleveland, and many nieces and nephews.