Still pounding: How one mother keeps her son’s memory from disappearing

Published 12:10 am Sunday, August 27, 2023

SALISBURY — For his entire life, Robert Stephen Gilmore was a fighter. Diagnosed with a brain tumor at the age of three, Stephen never let that disrupt his positive outlook on everything around him. When he was diagnosed with colon cancer at 15, it was a complication that may have weakened Stephen physically, but not his resolve to put other people first.

“He was a young man of courage and faith for life from the beginning of his journey. He never seemed to worry about what was going with him, he always concerned about everybody else. He always wanted to help, that’s the kind of spirit he had,” Wendy Baskins, Stephen’s mother, said.

Stephen passed away in February of 2016 after battling cancer for most of his life. After all these years of ups and downs, Baskins can not help but smile whenever she speaks about Stephen and all the happiness that has come from his everlasting memory. Shortly after Stephen passed, Baskins started Stephen’s Purpose, Inc., a non-profit to assist children experiencing cancer and their families. This first started when Stephen was alive and wanted to give out gas cards to other families he saw at the hospital who didn’t have as much as he did. 

Soon after he died, Baskins eventually started to feel like there was more she could do with her life. She soon retired as a social worker and began the foundation. “I think he would be very proud of what I did and for him, I think he would find satisfaction in what I do like peace,” Baskins said. “It brings me joy. It’s how I healed, helping others. Little did I know he was still helping me by having me help others.”

Baskins sends gas cards to families to get to their treatment and other places they need to go. She usually collects money in September during Childhood Awareness Cancer Month and in October for Stephen’s birthday. She recently gave them out for Valentines’s Day to commemorate the time in which he passed. The amount of gas cards she gives way tends to correlate with how old Stephen would be.

It has not always been easy for Baskins to persevere and donate her time for this endeavor. She has had moments where she did not want to do it anymore, but signs she saw made keep going on the course she is on now.

“Every time I try and step a way from it, something happens and pulls me back and lets me know I need to continue on that path,” Baskins said. “Something else happens that makes me say, ‘You’re doing the work that God wants you to do. Keep going.’ Sometimes you just need that little extra encouragement that what you’re doing means something because at some point it seemed like I was pulling teeth to get people to donate.”

Besides donating money for gas cards, Baskins also helps families who have children with cancer get through the battle that lays ahead of them. According to their website, Stephen’s Purpose, Inc. “is committed to S.A.E., support, advocacy and education for childhood cancer families and education for the intellectually delayed.”

Alicia Shue was one of the nurses who took care of Stephen who ended becoming very close with him and his family. “I miss our conversations. He would call you in the evenings and ask you about your day to try and lift you up when we were the ones wanting to lift him up. He always worried about us,” Shue said.

On Sept. 2, the foundation is putting on a 5K to help raise money for families dealing with cancer, with the Javon Hargrave Foundation acting as the title sponsor. Shue is on the foundation’s committee and loves that there is good being done in Stephen’s name even though he’s gone.

“We want to be a blessing to somebody else in his remembrance and honor him and continue to show people that he is still giving back even though he’s not here on this Earth,” Shue said.

Jill DeBose has been Wendy’s friend for years and is also on the foundation’s committee. There were times when Stephen’s Purpose may not have kept going, especially during COVID, but it was not possible to let Stephen down in any way.

“I knew, knowing Wendy for so long and knowing Stephen throughout his life, seeing how he fought so hard three times with cancer, that we could not just let this foundation die,” DeBose said.

DeBose is a social worker herself and has high hopes of the 5K. After taking part in the Salisbury’s Runner’s Club, she had the idea to have a run event as a fundraising vessel. After planning on having it last year, DeBose is excited to finally see it come to fruition.

“I’m looking forward most for the community engagement. Having Stephen’s Purpose Inc., for people to know what that foundation is, what it stands for, what it is, how it is helping and impacting children and families with cancer,” DeBose said.

Next month, Baskins will be speaking on a panel with the National Brain Tumor Foundation in Washington, D.C., She has worked with panels in the past and has learned more about Stephen’s condition by being involved with them. Baskins plans on doing more community outreach, but needs to find more ways to sustain the foundation.

After several years of Stephen no longer being in her life, Baskins does not dwell on all the bad that came with Stephen’s diagnoses, she resolves to focus on the positivity that has come about since. “Even as tragic as the situation we were in, it’s like God had him on a journey and he knew that,” Baskins said. “It made me stronger. His journey built my faith. I don’t think I even ever asked, ‘Why?’ I think we always lean to our faith to take us through the community.”

Towards the end of his life, Stephen realized he was going to die. It can be painful when a person who had so much enthusiasm come to terms with their dire circumstances. It was unbearably difficult for Baskins to sustain all of the pain she and Stephen endured. A Carolina Panthers fan, Stephen used their team motto as a push to put matters in perspective for Baskins.

“He said, ‘I’m going to die, but I’m not ready to go yet.’ That was his favorite thing that, ‘I’m not ready to go yet.’ I said, ‘What are we going to do?’ He said, ‘We’re going to keep pounding.’ And that’s literally what we did. We just kept pounding,” Baskins said.

Stephen is still pounding. His mother, friends, and strangers have made sure with Stephen’s Purpose Inc., that he and the values he followed will not be forgotten. The foundation and upcoming 5K are extensions to Stephen’s influence and all the heartening outcomes that have occurred thanks to his kindness in spite of the blows he was dealt.

“It’s hard not to think of not continuing his legacy. This is what I call what we’re doing now, it’s a continuation of his legacy of love for people, for humankind, for anyone,” Baskins said. “I miss him, but some people live a 100 years and never have the impact that he had.”