Former School of Nursing dean Marilyn Christian Gearing dies
Marilyn Christian Smith Gearing and her new husband, Walter Gearing, pose for a picture on their wedding day, May 21, 2001.
Marilyn Christian Smith Gearing, EdD, MSN, RN, FAAN, dean emeritus, Loma Linda University School of Nursing, passed away Tuesday, February 12.
Dr. Gearing served as dean of the School of Nursing from 1969 to 1981.
“Marilyn Christian Smith Gearing left a profound legacy in the School of Nursing,” says Marilyn Herrmann, PhD, RN, dean of the School.
“Her example of involvement locally, nationally, and internationally moved the School to true University status. When asked about her leadership she said her role was to set ‘the climate in which teachers, students, and nurses can perform at the optimal level of their abilities’ and this she did extremely well. She will be deeply missed by those of us whose lives she helped mold.”
Marilyn Christian was born in 1933 into a family dedicated to health care. Her father was a minister and her mother was a public health nurse. She recalled seeing her mother driving a county car and visiting patients in their neighborhood.
Inspired by her family, she enrolled in the nursing program at Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, Maryland. She received her baccalaureate degree in nursing in 1954. She continued her education at Catholic University of America and was awarded the MSN degree in nursing administration and community health in 1957. During these years she served as an instructor in public health nursing for Columbia Union College.
Before leaving Columbia Union College, she was appointed associate chair of the department of nursing. She later worked as supervisor and tuberculosis nursing consultant for the Richmond Health Department, Richmond, Virginia.
In 1963, she moved westward and began her illustrious academic and research career at Loma Linda University. She was associate professo
Marilyn Christian (back row, third from left) poses for a picture with her graduating nursing class in 1954.
r of community health nursing and administrator of the Loma Linda University Medical Center home care department.
In 1968, she was selected as dean-elect and continued as professor of community health nursing until her appointment as dean and professor at Loma Linda University School of Nursing in 1969.
She had no intentions of becoming an administrator. When she became dean at age 36, she remembered thinking, “How did they choose somebody so young—so inexperienced?” As dean, in dealing with people, from the Board of Trustees down to the beginning student, she always prayed for guidance in how to better understand different challenges.
Dr. Gearing became a problem-oriented administrator. She loved dealing with challenges. She realized that God gave her strength that was not her own to keep going, practicing a strong leadership style that she characterized as “cooperative.”
During her 12-year tenure as dean she served in a variety of professional organizations and national taskforces on federal health legislation.
She chaired the preparation of a report for the U.S. Congress titled “Analysis and planning for improved distribution of nursing personnel and services.” She organized and presented workshops for nursing leaders in a number of international settings. These were focused on improving nurse-patient relationships and teaching and administration in nursing.
Along with her responsibilities as dean, and her national and international efforts for nursing, she pursued higher education and obtained a doctor of education degree from University of Southern California in 1974. In 1979, she became a fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.
After her years as dean, her interests were focused on nursing staff development and nursing research aimed at improving patient outcomes in the operating room setting at Loma Linda University Medical Center.
Dr. Gearing married Maurice Eugene Smith on Valentine’s Day, February 10, 1980, in a secret wedding at the Redlands home of Marguerite and Louis L. Smith, MD (a vascular surgeon at LLUMC and the groom’s brother).
A highlight of her career occurred about two-thirds of the way through her deanship when she invited her father, a retired, dynamic, family man, to accompany her one evening to pick up her briefcase and some papers from her office.
While there, he stated that he wanted to pray with her and invited Marilyn to kneel in front of her desk. He knelt beside her, put his arm on her shoulder, and prayed a most articulate prayer from his heart.
“Lord, I’m coming toward the end of my life,” he said. “I don’t know when that will be, but this is my daughter. She is doing the work now and I want to give her my cloak.”
He put his arms around Marilyn and continued, “I want You to bless her, as You’ve blessed me—so that she will enjoy it all.” After he ended his prayer, he embraced Marilyn, kissed her, and, still an in-charge father, said, “Now you can stand up.” The experience was almost like a birthright. It was the last articulate prayer she ever heard him pray.
In 1990, she returned to teaching and curriculum development for LLUSN. She worked with Loma Linda University Church to create a parish nursing program as part of the community health nursing experience for School of Nursing senior students. She was active in community organizations. One major accomplishment of these groups was the development of an immunization tracking system for San Bernardino and Riverside counties.
On May 21, 2001, three years after her husband Maurice’s death from end-stage renal disease, Marilyn married Walter Laverne Gearing, a widower-neighbor. Her brother, Ed, conducted her second marriage in the Campus Chapel.
A committed scholar and educator, after her formal retirement in 1998, she continued to serve the School of Nursing in various assignments. She leaves a legacy of excellence in nursing education and practice. Nursing students, faculty, administrators, researchers, and their patients continue to reap the benefits of her life-long devotion to the nursing profession and health for all peoples.
Memorial services were held February 16 at the University Church Chapel on the campus of Loma Linda University.
By Dustin Jones, MA