Sarah Fisher Wilkes, business manager of the Ruxton Country School, died Monday at her home in Ruxton after a 12-year battle with breast cancer. She was 49.
Despite her illness, she continued to work at the school where she started her career in 1981, and as a volunteer with the Reach for Recovery Program, an outreach program for women with breast cancer.
"She pushed herself to the limit and drove herself to work as recently as 10 days ago," said Judy B. Barrett, headmaster of the school. "She was an incredible person who was focused, dedicated and continued to be an active environmentalist. This was a woman who could barely walk and was still actively recycling and had a big bag of newspapers standing by her desk in her office.
"Everyone she met she touched through her being and doing," Ms. Barrett said.
Known as Sally, Mrs. Wilkes was born and reared on Chattolanee Hill in the Green Spring Valley. She was a 1961 graduate of the Garrison Forest School and received her bachelor's degree in 1965 from Mary Baldwin College. After graduation, she worked for several years for the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., then left to get married. The marriage ended in divorce.
It was her own battle with breast cancer that turned her into an activist for others afflicted with the illness.
"Through her work with the Reach for Recovery Program, she was able to give support and hope by example," said her physician, Dr. Bernard M. McGibbon. "Her social life became her work and she had this amazing ability to project hope even when things looked the blackest. In fact, the people she was trying to help didn't realize that she was more ill than they were."
"When she went to see her oncologist last week, which was tough because he had to tell her that there was nothing more that could be done, she broke the tension by wearing a red nose and a pair of antlers," Dr. McGibbon said. "They don't come around very often like that. I was always amazed at her strength and bravery."
Mrs. Wilkes' sense of humor also helped her cope with her illness.
"She was a volunteer at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center," said Penny Levering, a sister who lives in Upperco. "She would deliver newspapers each afternoon and had a tape recording that announced, 'Newspapers,' as she pushed her cart through the halls.
"Because she was a friendly person, she moved into people's hearts," Mrs. Levering said.
Last year, she was honored by GBMC with a "Salute to Sally Wilkes" attended by over 300 people. The event raised money for her to take a trip to Africa to observe wildlife there. She had been a volunteer for many years at the Baltimore Zoo until her illness forced her to stop.
Brian Rutledge, director of the Baltimore Zoo, said she was a dedicated volunteer "who had more spunk than anyone I've met."
A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Church of the Good Shepherd, 1401 Carrollton Ave., Ruxton, where she had been a member of the vestry. Plans were incomplete for a memorial service at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center.
In addition to her sister, she is survived by two sons, Rex Wilkes of Ruxton and Scott Wilkes, a student at James Madison University; another sister, Becky Dunn of Cleveland; and her mother, Rebecca D. Fisher of Blakehurst retirement community.
Memorial donations may be made to the Ruxton Country School, 11202 Garrison Forest Road, Owings Mills 21117; Johns Hopkins Hospital, Oncology, Breast Cancer Research Fund, Suite 801, 550 N. Broadway, Baltimore 21205; or the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, 6710 N. Charles St., Baltimore 21204.