Tireless Gwinnett Medical Center advocate and fundraiser Kathryn Parsons Willis was presented with GMC’s 2012 Legacy Award and honored at a reception celebrating her 22 years on the hospital board. Willis is retiring from the hospital board, but plans to continue serving on the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation board.
Hospital officials, fellow board members, community leaders, friends, and family gathered at the Outpatient Center at GMC-Duluth Tuesday (April 24) to honor her. Willis tributes were delivered by speakers at the reception and in a video presentation.
Among those who praised her from the podium were Jason Chandler, president of the Gwinnett Medical Center Foundation; Ginger Powell, director of development for the foundation; David McCleskey, chairman of the GMC Board of Directors; and hospital supporter and friend Dorothy Rainey. Powell presented Willis with a book of memories filled with comments and photographs.
“Kathryn is one of the best examples of servant leadership that this community and this hospital has ever worked with, “ remarked McCleskey, who presented the Legacy Award to her.
“She believes that giving back to the community is essential,” McCleskey said. Willis is also the motivating founder of the Duluth Fall Festival, which annually attracts 100,000 visitors to the Duluth Town Green, he said, and an avid supporter of Peachtree Christian Hospice, the American Cancer Society, Aurora Theatre, and Duluth First United Methodist Church.
Willis turned 80 last June and celebrated with a birthday party for 1,000 guests on the Duluth Town Green and clogged to "Rocky Top" played by her favorite band Banks & Shane on the Duluth Festival Center stage.
McCleskey noted that Willis’ great-great grandfather Evan Howell founded Duluth in 1876, and her parents Calvin and Kate Parsons, early Duluth merchants who opened Parsons in 1925, were instrumental in helping Joan Glancy Hospital, the precurser to GMC-Duluth, in its beginnings in the 1940s.
GMC-Duluth opened in 2006. Joan Glancy Hospital, Gwinnett’s first hospital, is now a rehabilitation center and part of the GMC system, which has hospitals in Lawrenceville and Duluth.
Willis has served on the GMC Foundation Board of Directors since the early 1990s, and chairs its Legacy Circle, a growing circle of givers, McCleskey continued. For the past 10 years, she also chaired the foundation’s auction, he said.
Rainey called Willis “the heart and inspiration of GMC” and cited instances where Willis had motivated her personally to become involved in the hospital, the community and Duluth First UMC. Willis also described Willis as “a phenomenal fundraiser” and “a municipal treasure.”
“I thank you for all you helped do to make GMC one of the finest hospitals in the country,” Rainey concluded.
Willis, who was influenced by her mother’s fundraising efforts for Joan Glancy Hospital, said she was “raised on the hospital.” All of Willis’ five children and 14 grandchildren were born at Glancy, she said.
Willis told reception attendees that she is heading up Planned Giving, a program initiated a year ago by the GMC Foundation. “The goal was to have 10 signed up at the end of the first year,” Willis said. “We have 21.” Fred and Dorothy Rainey agreed to participate in the program that night at the reception, she added.
“Not only do I want your money [for the hospital] now, but when you die,” Willis quipped.
Her niece artist Kathy Fincher donated a painting titled ‘Double Vision” that will be hung in the Women’s Pavilion at GMC-Lawrenceville in Willis’ honor.
Willis’ two sisters Margaret Parsons Andrews and Ann Parsons Odum attended the reception as well as four of her children Gary Willis, Gin Willis, Tom Willis, and Kay Montgomery.