Twenty-five thousand, give or take.
That is the number of students whose lives were touched by Gert over the last 58 years. No last name is necessary to know who I’m writing about. This month’s Alumni Council column was going to feature an update on the council’s strategic plan. When we learned that the world lost Gert on January 26th, however, we knew there was only one topic that mattered.
When I think about Gert, I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s famous quote: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
It is clear from the outpouring of tributes and reminiscences that nobody – myself included – ever forgot how Gert made them feel. Remember those days Gert would be grumpy? Of course you don’t. Her perpetual smile and long, warm hugs are legendary. I’m sure Gert had bad days like everyone else, but you’d never have known it. Instead, she spread joy just by being herself. Gert seemed to have a sixth sense about who might need a little extra love. If you were homesick, or anxious, or sad, or stressed, Gert would pick up on it and provide on-the-spot mental health treatment in the form of a smile, a hug, a cookie, or a kind word. An encounter with Gert could only improve your day.
Gert made everyone feel as though their relationship with her was unique and special, and it was. In the days following her passing, I reminisced with some alumni friends – just a handful of her 25,000-ish surrogate grandchildren – who shared impressions and anecdotes about our Gert.
Of course, we all have memories around food. Gert always made sure I knew when taco bar day was coming up, because she understood my priorities. Ann Crump Johnson ’87 described how, within her first month at Carroll, Gert had memorized her breakfast order and she never had to tell her again. Mary Zorn ’88 remembered heading to the Pit after a bad day, and Gert suggested she have a grilled cheese and tomato soup. “She seemed to know what I needed. Small act, huge impact,” recalled Mary.
John Harris ’86 says it’s because of Gert that he enjoyed shepherd’s pie. He noted that he has “wonderful memories of enjoying eating at the Carroll Union because of Gert’s warmth and energetic personality. She made us all feel welcome and at home, which was especially important as a freshman being away from home for the first time.”
Gert’s impact, though, goes well beyond the food she served. Lynn Dusold ’87 recalled Gert cheering on the women’s basketball team and bringing true Pio spirit to all she did. When Christine Linde Miller ’88 and David Linde ’88 became engaged, Gert was among the first to know. “I remember being so excited and standing in line in the Pit with my two best friends,” Chris said. “I’m not sure how it came up in the conversation while standing in line but Gert must have asked about the big smile on my face so I told her I just got engaged. I’m pretty sure she may have known this before my own parents! That’s just the kind of person she was.”
Carroll Trustee David Laatsch ’95 described sitting outside the MDR a few years ago catching up on email between board meetings. “[I] did not get much done because it was so great to watch Gert’s loving interaction with each and every student that came in.”
Perhaps Nancy Malone Williquette ’87 sums up Gert’s impact best. “Gert’s friendly and welcoming presence made me feel well cared for during my first time living away from home. Her warmth spread to staff and students, setting a tone of comfort and appreciation.”
I am sure in the coming days there will be many opportunities to honor Gert’s memory in different ways, and it makes me happy to know that her name and spirit will live on in the MDR and beyond. For me, her passing is an opportunity to reflect on what made her so special, and to commit to keeping that Gert energy alive in the world: by loving others unconditionally. Giving big hugs. Listening attentively. Being of service. And never doubting what a smile and a kind word can mean to someone else. May Gert’s memory be a blessing, and may we all carry her essence forward through our words and deeds. Thank you, Gert.