Gene Glave once sat in my office, waving her arms and proclaiming, “It’s not like I am a diva or anything,” and I couldn’t stop laughing. Gene was a diva of the highest order, a diva for the best causes. She was our colorful, kind, loving, and generous diva, and now she’s earned her wings.
I knew Gene in her role as a pediatric nurse at Roper St. Francis Healthcare and as an actress. I’d rally a happy gang to attend her performances at the Dock Street Theatre and Village Playhouse, claiming to be her corporate groupies and threatening to throw our underwear on the stage. We became good friends after she randomly Googled her own name and discovered an admiring blog entry I’d written about her acting talent.
When she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, Gene started an online journal blogging every step of the experience. She turned it into a one-woman play called The Mammalogues. Her bittersweet description of her journey through cancer left the audience laughing through tears. She described texting her oncologist, who was “younger than her kitchen sponge,” and mimicked her surgeon’s Charleston accent in a way that left us in stitches. To this day we can’t look at her husband Dick without remembering how, babbling under anesthesia after her surgery, she boasted repeatedly of his sexual prowess to everyone in hearing distance.
As a photographer, I loved Gene because she was actively involved in everything in the most creative way. I have pictures of her with the network of healthcare co-workers who wore pink each Wednesday in a show of support. I snapped her wearing red for heart disease awareness, sporting a flashy pink flamingo hat, and dancing for a Trident United Way video. There are photos of her grinning from ear to ear, hugging doctors, dogs, children, and nuns. She was featured twice in the nudie Dragon Boat calendar posing with only her life jacket and a strategically placed paddle.
Gene loved dogs. Pet therapists changed their schedules to make sure she got a regular dose of doggie loving with her chemo. Ellie, Mac, and Jesse perked up their ears and took determined strides as they got closer to her room. They had important work to do snuggling in her lap, distracting her from the healing poison dripping in her arms.
Gene’s family was her most precious treasure. Her office walls were plastered with pictures of husband Dick, sister Pauline, sons Eddie, Bill, and Tommy, and grandchildren Taylor, Caleb, and Katie. Her extended family of theater people, Dragon Boat paddlers, and healthcare workers all claimed their special share of her interest and energy. She mentored students and advocated for children in need.
In true Gene fashion, she prepared a Facebook status update to be posted when she passed away, writing, “I have gone on ahead now in this journey of life, but what I carry is a celebration of our friendships, camaraderie, and love.”
I am comforted by the fact that we knew clearly how important Gene was when she was with us and we made the most of it. Every day was a celebration. She was publicly recognized for her contributions: lobbying for the Susan G. Komen Foundation and winning the Healthcare Hero Award and South Carolina’s highest nursing recognition, the Palmetto Gold Nursing Award.
This spring, the inaugural Spirit of Caring Award was created and presented in her name at an incredible surprise birthday party/oyster roast. Gene Glave’s legacy will live on as the award is given each year to beloved characters whose loss has taken some of the most brilliant color out of our lives.
Joan Perry is the director of volunteers at Roper St. Francis Healthcare and a photographer whose blog Charleston Daily Photo was voted best local blog by City Paper readers in 2009.