Sharon Rucker's journey into faith cut short by rare diseases

May 24, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail publishes "A Life Remembered." This continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Sharon Rucker, who died May 9 at the age of 58. Her obituary was published in the May 17 edition of The Herald-Mail.

In what she titled "A Living Portfolio," Sharon Rucker said she saw herself as an explorer, and she kept the notebook to chronicle the journey into her faith.

That voyage was cut short while she and her husband, Tom Greenfield, were in Florida earlier this month. After a two-year struggle to first identify and then combat the ailment that was robbing her of her strength, balance and mobility, Sharon died May 9 at the age of 58.

"It was multisystem atrophy," said Tom Greenfield, who shared with Sharon the last 10 years of her life. The couple exchanged wedding vows March 25.


At first, her motor skills were affected while she was working at the state prison complex south of Hagerstown as an administrative assistant, Tom said. She retired from the Division of Correction more than a year ago.

There were tests and more tests, including one on the outside chance that it was Lyme disease, Tom said. Through a process of elimination, the MSA diagnosis was confirmed.

Multisystem atrophy (MSA) is a group of rare, multisystem degenerative diseases with several clinical features of Parkinson's disease, according to Neurology Forum.

Not content to sit and do nothing, Sharon decided to pursue the ministry, and was involved in intensive studies toward that goal.

The disease progressed, ending that dream.

"It was heartbreaking for her to give up her ministry studies," Tom said, as it had been when she was forced to retire from her prison career.

The Rev. Valerie Wills, pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Hagerstown since 1997, first had known Sharon as a member of the search committee that called her here 11 years ago.

"Sharon was a private person, but had a strong impact on the people she knew," Valerie said.

Tom said Valerie did a wonderful job at Sharon's memorial, which was at nearby Salem Reformed Church to accommodate the 100-plus friends and family who attended.

"Valerie choked up a little at the service," Tom said, pointing out that Valerie also had presided at the couple's wedding just a month or so earlier.

Reached by telephone, Paul O'Flaherty, now the assistant commissioner of DOC programs and services, was assistant warden and then warden at the Maryland Correctional Training Center when Sharon worked there.

"Sharon was very loving and very giving," O'Flaherty said. "She dedicated her life to making things better for everybody."

O'Flaherty said Sharon was especially tireless in her efforts for the inmates, both while they were in prison and then to ease their way when they were ready to re-enter society.

Jon Galley worked with Sharon at Roxbury Correctional Institution when he was warden and she was the volunteer coordinator there.

"She was a great person," Galley said by telephone. Now the assistant commissioner for the DOC Western Region (Cumberland and Hagerstown), Galley said he was shocked to learn of Sharon's passing.

"When I left RCI, I was sorry to leave her -- I wanted to take Sharon with me," Galley said.

It was at RCI that Tom -- now a retired correctional officer -- and Sharon met and began seeing each other.

"People would ask how long we were married and I'd say since March," Tom said. "But we were together for 10 years before that."

When Sharon still was healthy, she and Tom spent as much time as possible sailing at the Eastern Shore and bird-watching on Assateague Island.

By the fall of 2007, Sharon was relegated to a four-wheel motorized chair to get around.

"It had really gotten bad by then," Tom said.

Still, he said Sharon enjoyed sitting out on the deck of the country home they shared, watching the birds and enjoying nature.

"My autobiography is not finished because I'm not," Sharon said in her journal. She had a lot of living yet to do.

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