70 Years: Sister Georgette Bayless

(Sister Mary Joan)

Read: And God Laughed, a poem by Sr. Georgette

Some people see suffering and sorrow, but ultimately move on. Then there are those like Sister Georgette Bayless. A rape victim’s trauma inspired her to motivate collaborators and supporters to build and support a sexual assault center in Everett, Wash. The death of a man on the sidewalk near a hospital, alone except for his anguished wife, led to her determination to champion efforts to open Hospice of Snohomish County. Yes, God is perfectly capable of alleviating suffering, but Sister Georgette believes He can always use a little help. “Let’s do something,” is her favorite response to unmet needs. “You can get a lot of things done if you don’t worry about who gets the credit.”

Born the middle child of seven in San Jose, Calif., she trained as a nurse before entering the religious community in 1944 as a 21-year-old. Sister Georgette’s first ministry was as a nursing supervisor at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Yakima, Wash., followed by service in Providence hospitals in Washington, Alaska and Oregon, in nursing, pastoral care, outreach, hospice, mission effectiveness and other capacities.

Honored with Jefferson Award for community service

She has organized people to start new programs, raise money for community needs and expand outreach to the forgotten. She even donned biker leather and climbed aboard a Harley motorcycle in her 80s for a hospice fundraiser. Her determination, passion and commitment led to her being named as one of six Washington recipients of the Jefferson Awards for community service in 1980.

Even as a retiree since 1995, this 93-year-old says she has found a new vocation, “being with the elderly,” talking and sharing with other sisters on the third floor of St. Joseph Residence, Seattle. She described showing an art book to the sisters and hearing some of them talk for the first time. “I had to turn the pages, but it was an exciting experience for me. This is a time for me to enjoy them and to help them enjoy life. There’s life in there; we need to call it forth.”

Sisters choose her art for Jubilee celebration

She can be her own toughest critic, noting that she sometimes lacks energy and is not exercising enough, but with her walker that locks itself and has lights, she keeps moving. One concern is that she has not had the energy to paint for a while, so she was especially delighted when the Jubilarians chose one of her works as the design for their celebration.

“Despite my frailties, I enjoy life,” Sister Georgette said. Still a doer rather than a dreamer, she keeps current on favorite projects, including an expanded hospice facility to open later this year with 16 beds. “I stay involved by talking with people. I’m still out there.”