Marie Waller and PRMC: Caregivers of Salisbury

Immense gratitude goes out to Bryan LeCompte and the Peninsula Regional Medical Center Foundation for creating “The Giving House.”

PRMC and the legacy of the woman best associated with the building – the late Marie Waller – are embodied in the name of the Foundation’s new office occupying what was once Waller’s home. Waller spent her life as a caregiver, and now LeCompte and PRMC honor that spirit of caregiving.

In 2016, the property was purchased by PRMC with the intent to raze the structure for the growing hospital complex.

Marie Waller.

There are many contributors who helped make the project complete. The outdoor fireplace and a “Giving Ring” salute donors such as Leighton Moore, the Guerrieri Family of Ocean City, restaurateur Frank Hanna, businessman Ed Wilgus and poultry magnate Jim Perdue.

LeCompte, a close Waller family friend and PRMC Foundation board member, proposed his dream in 2017, of saving the residence and re-purposing the structure in Waller’s honor. Now two years later, Salisbury has an exquisite historic memorial to the hospital, the former neighborhood and nurses and other medical professionals who serve their community.

The modest 1940 residence on Royal Street has been something of an oddity in recent years. Visiting the house to interview Marie Waller was a surreal experience, seeing this solitary house surrounded by parking lots and hospital buildings. But it was once part of a thriving neighborhood.

For Marie Waller, who passed in 2014, her lifelong role as a caregiver was intimately connected to that home and the hospital which had served as her second home for nearly half of her 102 years and she did not want to give that up. Her world was giving to family and patients; and in retirement she was surrounded by all of them.

LeCompte is quoted as saying about Waller, “If you met her, you’d never forget her.” This is true. Having visited with her and her daughter Rosemary a few years back, my experience was the same. The strangeness of the neighborhood was easily forgotten while welcomed warmly into her home.

It did not take long to understand the richness of Marie’s family history. Marie Johnson was born on a farm in Laurel in Sussex County to Martin Wilson and Rose Harkins Johnson. She took a different path by earning her nursing degree from the Peninsula General Hospital School of Nursing in 1934, yet her experience at the hospital began years earlier as a student nurse.

With her longevity at the hospital, Marie witnessed the changes and challenges of a growing hospital, all the while focused on caregiving. She could describe so much of Salisbury history with unforgettable clarity.

She liked to describe her interactions and friendships with other nurses and hospital staff, and she was understandably proud of her family.

She married J. Edward “Ed” Waller, the son of Reuben J. and Mary Jane Ennis Waller. Ed and his father co-owned the R.J. Waller & Son Confectionery, a popular landmark formerly located across from the Wicomico County Courthouse in the block along Division Street raised for the present City-County Government Office Building. They also owned the adjacent William Penn Hotel and Bar.

The confectionery establishment has been described by Dick Moore as “THE meeting place of most sports-minded Salisburians.” Reuben Waller, “held sway as the operator of the place where two generations of Salisburians got their sports news along with newspapers, sodas, lunches,” where scores from a sports ticker were posted to scoreboards for anxious sports enthusiasts.

Ed would post loving birthday wishes to Marie in the newspaper. For her 90th birthday, he posted a charming poem he wrote heralding her speed and tenacity at keeping him going. He wrote that her patients once called her Sergeant, implied qualities needed to get things done including keeping him straight. He wrote that when she must take her final leave, “I hope we are on the same train, and it goes very fast.”

Ed died in 2004 and 10 years later together they took that train. The two spent about a century giving to their families and the people of Salisbury. It’s nice to see that the hospital, which meant so much to Marie and the community, has honored them in this way. No doubt about it, Ed and Marie are smiling.

Linda Duyer lives in Salisbury. Contact her at lindaduyer1@yahoo.com.

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