2023 Pillars of Strength Scholarship Recipient
While still in high school in Maryland, Mary George Gipson—she goes by MG—became her father’s primary caregiver.
Reginald Gipson had a long and busy military career, rising to major in the Army before transitioning to the Army Reserves and then joining the Secret Service. He was so rarely home that MG, as a 4-year-old, once ran to the door for the pizza delivery guy only to see a strange man who turned out to be her father.
When Gipson was home, he was a totally attentive father. But he wasn’t often home. MG’s mother, who managed a local homeless shelter, accepted this situation. One of the results of Gipson’s absences was that MG and her mother became especially close.
Then one day Gipson came home—permanently. He had slipped on ice in Syracuse, New York, and suffered extensive injuries. Instead of getting better, his injuries worsened, even after several surgeries. MG’s mother struggled to care for him and to make sure her daughter’s life was OK. But she eventually descended into alcoholism and died in 2017.
MG was just 16, a junior year of high school.
Apart from his injuries, Gipson suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which worsened after his wife died. MG realized her father would need constant care, and the family would need more income. She enrolled to finish high school online—long COVID-19 made that option common—and she took over running the household, all while holding down a full-time job.
Since her father was susceptible to falls, MG spent a lot of time ensuring the home was free of risks. Following complications from medical procedures to fix Gipson’s injuries, he received a new diagnosis. He was now an insulin-dependent diabetic. That meant MG had to be careful with grocery shopping, watch what she cooked for him and monitor his glucose levels. She worked with mental health providers to keep his PTSD manageable and took him to medical appointments to help with his pain management and mobility. She kept him on an exercise regimen to prevent complications from a sedentary lifestyle.
When COVID-19 hit and she lost her job, MG signed up for online classes at Anne Arundel Community College, working slowly to make sure she did not run up debt. She graduated in May with a degree in business management and business communications.
With the lifting of COVID restrictions, she landed a job with Echostage, a Washington, D.C., concert venue featuring electronic dance music. At first she worked part-time in security, but she excelled and enjoyed the environment and the people working there and she was quickly promoted. The experience has made her refocus her career plans. She hopes to work in event management in the music and dance industry.
“I reached out to [UMGC Assistant Director of Veterans Initiatives and Outreach] Kelly Grooms, and she was nothing short of amazing,” MG said. “She helped me through the whole process.”
MG told her father she didn’t see how she could afford to finish a bachelor’s degree. Then the phone rang. It was Grooms to inform her that she was a Pillars of Strength Scholarship recipient. MG cried.
MG had just graduated from the community college and was on the dean’s list, so she was still on an emotional high from that. The news from UMGC? “That was icing on the cake,” she said.