Phyllis W. Rice, a World War II veteran and a volunteer at Greater Baltimore Medical Center since it opened, died of coronary artery disease on Oct. 21 at Blakehurst Retirement Community in Towson. She was 93.
“She was an amazing woman who had a great sense of helping others feel at home during a time of crisis and confusion,” said the Rev. J. Joseph Hart, longtime chaplain at GBMC. “She was a calming presence with both patients and their families.”
“She was a very nice lady. We loved her dearly,” said Sheila R. Peterson, supervisor of GBMC’s Patient Access department. “She had a quiet spirit — and gorgeous white hair. I was always complimenting her on it. We will truly miss her.”
Near the end of World War II, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy program known as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service — or WAVES. She was trained as a hospital apprentice at the National Naval Medical Center, more commonly called the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
After her training she continued to work there for two years, and was discharged in 1947.
A year later she married Charles E. Rice Jr., who later became president of the Paul Rice Engineering Co. He died in 1986.
When GBMC began receiving patients in 1965, Mrs. Rice was among the original band of volunteers.
“Her first assignment was in the coffee shop, with an outside patio that was located in the back of the hospital,” according to a Volunteer Spotlight feature in a hospital publication. “The volunteers waited on tables and made milkshakes...”
In the article, Mrs. Rice recalled: “We had no mentor. Everyone was new, and no one had any experience. Together, we all sort of felt our way.”
Mrs. Rice worked in various departments at the hospital including admitting, now known as Patient Access. She accompanied patients to blood work and urinalysis, helped out with special projects and worked on the hospital’s Nearly New Sale — a tradition at the hospital that raises money annually for patient care.
She was a familiar presence, pushing her cart through the halls of the hospital delivering toothpaste, toothbrushes and other items to patients. She assisted in carrying fresh flowers and vases to patients’ rooms and lovingly arranging them.
“She did such a great job on the main desk,” Ms. Peterson said.
“I’m very proud to say that I was one of the first volunteers in the hospital, and I was also in the first class at Hospice [now Gilchrist Center Towson],” Mrs. Rice said in the volunteer profile. Asked how she summed up her decades of service to GBMC, Mrs. Rice replied: “I’ve gained the pleasure of serving others, helping visitors and patients.”
“She was a constant presence and support and, because she was local, she knew so many of our patients which was helpful in her interaction with them,” the Rev. Hart said. “She was warm and friendly yet somewhat reserved as well.”
She was also a volunteer fundraiser for the cancer and heart campaigns.
She enjoyed playing bridge, was a world traveler and continued playing tennis at the Baltimore Country Club, where she was a member, until she was 87.
Mrs. Rice is survived by a son, Robert E. Rice of Stewartstown, Pa.; two daughters, Stephanie R. Davis of Monkton and Courtney R. Martin of Towson; a sister, Elaine W. St. John of Northfield, N.J.; six grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.