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LIVING TO GIVE

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AT 95, MILLIE BAILEY HAS ALL SHE NEEDS.

BUT SHE KNOWS OF PLENTY WHO DON’T.

INTERVIEW BY Martha Thomas   PORTRAIT BY André Chung
Vivian “Millie” Bailey was born in Washington, D.C., in 1918, but her mother moved the children back to her hometown of TulsaMillie Bailey, Okla., when Millie’s father went off to fight in the First World War. Bailey enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in 1942 and was eventually promoted to a commander. After the war, she worked for the Veterans Administration and Social Security in Chicago and was transferred to Baltimore as a division director. She and her husband, William, bought a brand new house in Columbia in 1970, where Bailey still resides. Though she retired in 1975, Millie Bailey keeps busy. Over the years, she has volunteered and held board positions for several organizations, including Howard County General Hospital. She is known for recognizing others’ needs and doing her best to fulfill them. If you ask her what she wants, she’ll look around to see what she can distribute to others.
Q Do you have children?
No bio children, but I have a lot of loving adopted children I’ve picked up along the way. One is Bill Clinton. I’ve got a picture of him right over there. I met him in ‘09; he and I were both speakers at a service celebrating the life of John Hope Franklin, a historian I had grown up with in Tulsa. I was among the speakers, with Vernon Jordan and Clinton. When Clinton got up he said when I grow up I want to be like her. Then when we went to lunch, he told me that he and Vernon Jordan wanted to adopt me. Later I wrote him a note telling him instead I could be his adopted grandmother. He wrote me back a little note and said that he’d be proud to be my adopted grandson.
Q You’ve been on a lot of boards and done a lot of volunteering. How did that start?
I like to be busy, but I want to do something that has some meat in it, has some depth. I like playing cards – and I don’t play as much anymore because I don’t have my card-playing friends available. When I retired from government I’d had experience at the federal level and the state level. I hadn’t had any at the local level. I volunteered for Hugh Nichols when he was county executive. And I was on the health resources planning commission for 10 years and 9 months. The commission approved beds and procedures for hospitals and nursing homes. I was involved in approving the very first MRIs and CAT scans for the state. I’m so proud I can say magnetic resonance imaging. We had to approve which hospitals could do open heart surgery.
Tell me about your work with the soldiers.
Back in the ‘60s when Vietnam was going on, we were in a group in Chicago, the Ifs, for Interracial Friends. We sent packages. When the Desert Storm took place, when Persian Gulf took place, I sent cookies. When Iraq started, I started sending cookies to soldiers in Iraq. On my birthday in ‘04, I had a box I’d made to send to a soldier named Seth, whose father-in-law had been a minister at our church. I got this box ready for Seth and put it in my car. The next morning, before I was ready to go to the post office, I got a call that he’d been killed. I couldn’t even take it out of my car for a couple of weeks.
Q What kind of cookies do you make?
My favorite cookie is one that has chocolate chips, nuts and coconut. The coconut gives it that extra little thing; they are so good. But we send more than cookies now. We have a list of things they need: toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant. Some are in remote areas, so we try to make sure we supply them with things they need. We’re sending them to a chaplain who distributes them. But if you sent them to a soldier, they’re gonna share, ‘cause they look out for each other.
I understand you also ask for gifts for others?
I solicit money and supplies for Running Brook (elementary school), which is my passion. Before I started with this school, I used to tell people for my birthday, let’s not do something for me, let’s do something for somebody else. So we’d fill up a bag with groceries and take it to the food bank. One year, my friend, my favorite travel companion and I, we went to Fiji, we saw children so beautiful and so impoverished. For my birthday that year I told everybody, let’s send things to Fiji. They never got there, were stolen. But we tried.
Then some months later, I was reading in the newspaper about Running Brook being given a computer by some store, and they said they needed something, hardware or software. I don’t know I’m completely computer illiterate. So I called them and asked the principal what they needed. I started following up on that. Now every year, the principal tells me their wish list, things they want funded that aren’t in the budget, so I send out a cover letter to individuals, businesses and foundations. We’ve averaged about $10,000 a year.
People talk a lot about keeping their minds sharp. Do you have any secrets?
You have to do something that makes you use your mind. If you sit around all day looking at television, I don’t care what it is, you don’t have to think. You’re receiving but you’re not giving. If you’re working on the hospital board, like I’m on, you’re getting packages of information, you have to read them, and analyze. You’ve got to think. Television is OK, but it doesn’t make you think. Something like Jeopardy, you can learn some new words. If you’re just looking at cooking shows … that doesn’t make you use your mind.
Millie Bailey’s wishes
What would you like to receive for yourself?
Isn’t that strange. I should be able to think of something. I really can’t.
Maybe a computer?
It would have to be very simple.
Something self-enriching?
These are hard questions. I love to travel. The kids at the school asked me how many countries I’d been to; I counted to 50. I haven’t visited all the states in the United States. But I’m not sure I’d put that as my goal. There are places outside the country I’d visit another time before I’d try to do all the states.
How about a wish for the world?
I’d like to see more people conscious of the fact that despite all these affluent people in Howard County, we have a lot of people with needs. We have homeless people. I would like to see people think about getting a bag of food and taking it over to the food bank.

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