SALISBURY — To be “an overcomer” is to be not only hard-working, but highly blessed.
So said members of Tower of Power United Holy Church in describing one of their own, Pauline Hawthorne Corry, on Sunday.
Corry, 70, has the honorary title “mother of the church,” given to her as a long-serving woman and role model.
During Sunday’s annual Pew Rally service — part homecoming, part parish fundraiser — members of some of the church’s founding and supporting families were remembered.
Corry was honored not just for serving the church, but for how she served.
In 1992, Corry received a kidney transplant, after having been on dialysis for five years prior to that.
After doing research, her family believes her to be the longest-surviving kidney transplant recipient in Rowan County.
The recognition came as a surprise to Corry, who sat in the congregation as Pastor William D. Turner gave a remembrance of her mother, the late Annie Hawthorne.
Then, Turner called members of the Hawthorne family up to the front of the church.
They carried balloons, flowers and a framed certificate.
Sherry Hawthorne read words honoring “Mother Pauline,” whom Turner called “the very epitome of what a mother should be.”
As the church members rose to their feet, applauding, Corry was nearly overcome with emotion.
Standing outside the church later, Corry’s son, Lawrence Hawthorne, talked about the times when things were more difficult.
Corry had been a housekeeper and hostess at St. John’s Lutheran Church since 1979. In 1987, she developed kidney problems and had to leave her job.
Back then, he said, “you used to have to drive to Winston-Salem three times a week. You didn’t have (dialysis) in Salisbury back then.”
Following the service, Corry sat in the church hall for lunch with other parishioners and guests.
When she thinks back to those times, Corry said, she can’t focus on the negatives.
But, she said, “There are days when it’s like your life is spent on dialysis. It seemed like it was every day,” Corry said.
Along the way, Corry was placed on a waiting list for a kidney transplant.
She was given a pager to keep with her 24/7, waiting for the call that would tell her a donor kidney was available.
Early in the summer of 1991, she said, the call came.
“It was about three or four o’clock in the morning that the pager went off,” Corry said.
She hurried to get ready, but on checking further, doctors learned that Corry was suffering from a cold.
The illness disqualified her from receiving the transplant, Corry said.
“Oh, I went to pieces,” she said. “I’d waited so long.”
Still, she said, her doctors told her not to lose hope, that she would remain on the list — that someday, perhaps only a few months later, she would come up on the list again.
And, Corry said, she never lost her faith.
Two weeks later, on June 13, 1991, the pager went off again.
This time, she said, everything went smoothly. When she was discharged from Baptist Hospital, Corry said, dialysis was behind her.
Though she had to stop working, Corry found a new way to remain active: working in her church.
Among her duties, Corry has been a member of the choir, and president of the Pastor’s Aid Society.
She was also a constant volunteer with the soup kitchen ministry and other efforts, according to family members and the Rev. Turner.
“She is truly a prayer warrior,” Turner said.
It was simple, Corry said with a smile: “I didn’t stop!”
Game of checkers
What’s happened since then, Corry and other say, has been the real miracle.
Being off dialysis was good, but Corry was warned that the transplant was not a permanent solution.
She was told to expect to have to go back on dialysis in the future – maybe five years later, or perhaps as many as seven to 10.
Corry said that didn’t worry her. She had learned to be glad for the life she had.
While she was on dialysis, Corry said, “I taught myself to write poetry. One of the poems I wrote was called ‘The Checkerboard of Life.’”
She compared life to a game of checkers, where pieces can be taken off the board at random.
Just so, Corry said, every few weeks while she was on dialysis, one person or another would pass away.
That experience, she said, helped her to remain thankful.
“I can’t talk down about dialysis,” Corry said. “It saved my life.”
The bigger miracle, Corry said, is the fact that, 21 years later, she is still healthy and has never again been on dialysis.
“It is the Lord’s doing, nothing of my own,” Corry said. She attributes her ongoing health to her faith in Jesus Christ.
Today, she remains active in the church and in the lives of her family — son Lawrence, two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren.
Co-Pastor Patricia Turner said other women should aspire to live as Corry has done.
“Even though (Corry) may be in pain sometimes, she has a strong testimony and a strong foundation,” she said.
At the same time, Corry said, there’s another person who should be remembered: the anonymous man who donated his organs, whom Corry said is also responsible for her being here today.
Back in ’91, she said, there was no way to identify the donor’s family to express her thanks.
To this day, Corry said, “I thank him in my heart. I thank the Lord for touching his heart to do that.”
That’s the message Corry said really ought to be celebrated.
Although she’s not sure whether she is, in fact, the longest-surviving kidney transplant recipient, Corry said that wasn’t as important as the decision to be an organ donor.
As “mother of the church,” Corry said, she works often with young people and tries to be a role model for them.
She hopes more people might step forward and decide to become organ donors, just as her donor did.
“He made the decision to say yes to being a donor,” Corry said. “When you say yes, you save a life.”
And, as members and friends at Tower of Power UHC would attest, such a person can go on to inspire many others for years to come.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.