By Ann Miller Baker - December 20, 2018
When Margie Schwerdt passed from this life on May 11, her brother Lincoln is sure "she threw her arms around God, called Him ‘honey,’ and asked - ‘Now, what can I do to help you?’ ”
The redhead with the world’s best hugs offered encouragement and unconditional love to all who passed her post at the Gold Valet Information Desk over the last 10 years. Many knew she was a longtime colon cancer survivor. She readily befriended those she met who were newly diagnosed with the disease, dispensing practical wisdom along with comfort.
But few knew the reason for her absence from the desk early this year. Margie had been diagnosed with cancer again, this time in her lungs. Moffitt Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jack Kolosky recalled how energized she was when last he saw her on April 20, the day she rang the bell in the Radiation Oncology Clinic to celebrate her final treatment. “Where does all that life energy go?” he asked the hundreds who assembled for a Celebration of Margie’s Life held May 22 at the Stabile Research Building Auditorium.
Judging from those who spoke, a part of Margie’s boundless energy will remain with each person she touched.
"Margie hugged like she lived: all out," said Dr. B. Lee Green, vice president of Moffitt Diversity, Public Relations and Strategic Communications. For him, each Margie hug would be followed by her straightening his trademark bow tie. “The beauty of Margie is that she treated everyone with love,” he added. "And if you loved her back, she’d just love you even harder." He urged us to honor Margie by embodying her spirit of love and respect for everyone we encounter. And he thanked the 22 members of her family in attendance, including husband Paul and son Michael, for sharing Margie with Moffitt.
Volunteer John Schwarz sat at the desk with Margie for eight years. He called her “the most genuine person I’ve ever met.” From their post, Schwarz would watch patients arriving for treatment, faces blank with fear and concern. “But once they opened that door and saw Margie, they couldn’t help but smile. More than once, a patient who’d be here multiple days a week for treatment would come in on their day off just to get Margie’s hugs and encouraging words.”
Pam Lowry said she was one of those patients. “Margie was the first person I saw when I came to Moffitt for treatment. She could sense I was terrified, and immediately came over to ask, ‘can I give you a hug?’ ” When Lowry returned two years later as a Moffitt team member, she was able to tell Margie how much that meant. “She became my second mom,” Lowry added. “And when I told her about my plan to return to nursing school, she said, ‘It’s about damn time!’ ”
Other patients, past and current, as well as colleagues from throughout Margie’s 17-year Moffitt career, added their own stories. One called her “a healer of healers.” Another penned a poem called "Fly Away," for this "rare bird" who communicated with warmth and kindness.
"When my time comes," reflected her brother Lincoln, "I hope they’ll be able to say I lived a life larger than myself. Margie did, here at Moffitt. Thank you for giving her the opportunity to reach her full potential."
And if we live well enough to make it to the pearly gates, we’ll welcome a hug from heaven’s newest greeter.
If you knew Margie or were touched by her story of courage, here’s one way to help honor her memory. The 2018 Miles for Moffitt event took place Saturday, Dec. 8, at its new location in downtown Tampa. Runners, walkers and virtual participants joined, with every dollar of event proceeds benefiting lifesaving research at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Margie’s colleagues in Moffitt’s Patient Experience department were there as Team Heart & Sole, dedicating their participation to her memory. They dubbed their efforts “Miles for Margie.” And they extended an open invitation to join them as they walked in memory of their beautiful friend and worked together to end cancer.
As so clearly stated on Team Heart & Sole’s donation page, "There is no better way to commemorate Margie’s life and the place she held so dear."
While this year’s Miles for Moffitt event has already taken place, you can be part of the “Miles for Margie” fundraising efforts through Jan. 11, 2019, by visiting support.moffitt.org/MilesforMargie. Additionally, you can visit MOFFITT.org/Give to learn about other ways to support Moffitt’s powerful cancer-fighting programs year-round.
This article is part of Moffitt Momentum® magazine, a publication that shares portraits of hope, innovation and triumph, all leading to the same end: beating cancer. Click here to access the full issue of the magazine in PDF format.