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Shirley Mae Bruce, retired caregiver to nursing home patients and ‘real Baltimore lady,’ dies

Shirley Mae Bruce was a nursing assistant for more than 30 years in Baltimore, Glen Burnie and the Washington, D.C., area.
Shirley Mae Bruce was a nursing assistant for more than 30 years in Baltimore, Glen Burnie and the Washington, D.C., area.(Handout)

Shirley Mae Bruce, a retired caregiver to nursing home patients who was recalled as a “real Baltimore lady," died of cancer Jan. 28 at her daughter’s Catonsville home. The former Marbourne Avenue resident was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised in West Baltimore, she was the daughter of Edgar Young, a railroad worker, and his wife, Carrie Young. She was a 1958 graduate of Frederick Douglass High School.

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“As a young girl, she had long beautiful hair,” said her cousin, Tony Epps, for whom she babysat. “To me, she was like a movie star.”

She earned a nurse’s aide diploma from the American Red Cross.

Ms. Bruce worked as a nursing assistant for more than 30 years in Baltimore, Glen Burnie and the Washington, D.C., area.

“She loved everyone who crossed her path and they loved her in return. She was very passionate about her work," said her daughter, Deborah Honeyestewa of Elko, Nevada. “When she was on private duty work, she cooked meals for her patients and got them out of the house for short walks. She bathed them and saw to their needs. She was a born caregiver with a big, kind heart.”

Her daughter also said, “My mother always had a positive outlook and made her patients bond with her. If their spirits were down, she lifted them.”

Family members recalled that Ms. Bruce was an accomplished cook who staged what she called a dinner party, where neighbors came to her house and paid $7 for a plate of food they ate in her living room when she lived on Chalgrove Avenue near Pimlico Race Course.

“She had choices like crab cakes — which was her most popular — and spare ribs. She made the best potato salad. It had celery seed in it. No one could duplicate that potato salad," said her daughter, Deborah.

Ms. Bruce cooked in the Southern style and often made cornbread, collard greens, barbecue and chicken dishes.

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“When she made chitterlings everyone would leave the house. The smell was not good,” said her daughter.

She described her mother’s parenting skills.

“She was a great believer in the Sunday family dinner and cooked up a lot of food and that drew people around her table,” said her daughter. “She was a real Baltimore lady.

“She was creative in the kitchen. She had a big family and one of her breakfasts was fried potatoes, green peppers, onion and Old Bay seasoning. She loved seafood and made great salmon cakes that she would stretch a little bit by adding mackerel.”

Ms. Bruce, who never drove, enjoyed walking. She would gather her children and take them on foot along North Avenue. Her route began at Walbrook Junction and took her nearly 55 blocks to the gatehouse of Baltimore Cemetery at Rose Street. They then walked home.

“On a hot day, she would buy us an ice cup on North Avenue‚” her daughter said of the sweet frozen confection sold informally out of the front windows of Baltimore rowhouses. “I don’t know how my mother found the time to do all she did. I don’t think she had the need to sleep much.”

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She also said, "My mother never smoked but she did occasionally have a glass of sherry. She loved her sassafras tea and bought her own sassafras root to make it. She thought it had medicinal value.

“She had laughter in her voice. She had a nice, calming laugh.”

Ms. Bruce also was a card player and enjoyed painting watercolors of flowers and animals.

She was a member of Faith Tabernacle Church.

In addition to her daughter, survivors include a son, Ronald Moore Sr.; five other daughters, Victoria Bruce, Sarah Bruce, Myrna Bruce, Camille Bruce and Lillian Rice, all of the Baltimore area; and 14 grandchildren. Her husband, William Bruce, a cook, died in 2004. A son, Casper Bruce, also died in 2005.

Funeral services were held Feb. 8 at the Vaughn Greene Funeral Home.

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