Local woman beats cancer odds and devotes life to generosity

January 26, 2007|by JANET HEIM

Editor's note - There are a lot of people you see around town that you recognize, but don't know anything about. People like...

Jean Wainwright

Age - 85.

Hometown - Plainfield, N.J.

Where would you see Wainwright? - Jean Wainwright is known by friends and family for her generous spirit. At age 55, she began volunteering at Homewood at Williamsport after hearing a "plea from the pulpit" at her church.

She was still working full-time doing clerical work at Duvinage Corp. and two years later was diagnosed with uterine cancer. Despite a hysterectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Wainwright's doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital told her she had only six months to live.

That was 28 years ago and Wainwright has defied the odds, with a glowing report at her latest physical a week ago. Surviving cancer kicked her volunteer efforts into high gear.


"That was my way of repaying to God," said Wainwright, who said she prayed the cancer away. "You go through something like that, you have a lot to be thankful for."

She is a member of Church of the Holy Trinity on Oak Ridge Drive, where she is a church representative to Homewood. A new task she's taken on is sending cards to church members for events such as birthdays, anniversaries and retirement.

After her cancer treatments, Wainwright found a range of volunteer opportunities through the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (R.S.V.P.) of the Washington County Commission on Aging. She put her clerical skills to good use at Hickory Elementary School, Hospice of Washington County, Food Resources Inc., Washington County Sheriff's Department Adult Community Service and an ARC bike event.

Wainwright learned her clerical skills on the job. Her first job out of high school was as a file clerk for 26 lawyers in New York City and after moving to Hagers-town, she did secretarial work at Victor Products for seven years and at Duvinage for 13 years.

An added bonus was that Wainwright's husband, Marvin Wainwright, was committed to volunteering as well. He was a driver for Meals on Wheels for 18 years.

"That's what made it good. We each had our own thing to do," said Jean Wainwright, who lives in Hagerstown.

Both were recognized as R.S.V.P. Volunteers of the Year in 1988. Some of the other awards Jean Wainwright received include the Maryland Department of Education Outstanding Volunteer Service Award, the United Way V.I.P. Award, Washington County's Most Beautiful Citizen, the People's Choice Community Foundation of Washington County Award and the statewide Governor's Foundation Award.

The Wainwrights married in 1943 and were married almost 60 years when he died in 2001. The family moved with their two children to Hagerstown in 1961, when Mack Trucks transferred a group of New Jersey employees to Maryland.

In addition to prayer, volunteering, a positive attitude and oatmeal for breakfast most mornings, Wainwright said her other secret to long life is vinegar. She drinks a "vinegar cocktail" every day a couple of teaspoons of vinegar mixed with eight ounces of apple juice.

She also likes lemon juice and laughs as she remembers that her children gave her a bottle of lemon juice as a stocking stuffer for Christmas.

Wainwright, who turned 85 on Jan. 18, said the best part of this year's celebration was having her family together and living nearby. She has 11 grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-grandchild on the way.

Her daughter and son-in-law, Barb and Charley Ware, used to live in Rockville, Md., and her son, Chuck Wainwright, returned to Washington County 23 years ago, after having lived in Colorado. He lives with his wife, Kathryn Wainwright. Last year, Chuck was hospitalized and they weren't sure he'd live.

"It's extra special. My family's all back here," Jean Wainwright said.

Hobbies - Wainwright is a "jigsaw nut." She said since her son-in-law got her hooked up with jigsaw puzzles on the computer, she's "having a ball" doing them on the computer. "I also read some and knit a good bit," Wainwright said.

What does Wainwright like best about Washington County? - When the Wainwrights moved to Hagerstown 45 years ago, Jean Wainwright said she couldn't imagine being 200 miles away from the ocean. To ensure they got their beach fix, they bought a one bedroom condominium in Ocean City, Md., where they spent a good deal of time.

Through high school band boosters, church and Scouts, the family made good friends here and Wainwright said because of those friends, she'd never go back to New Jersey.

If you know anyone in the community who might make an interesting Our Town feature, contact Janet Heim at 301-733-5131, ext. 2024 or e-mail

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