Most of the people at Chicago’s Children’s Hospital did not know her name. They just knew her as the sweet elderly lady in the vivid red suit who wanted to make sure that every sick child had a teddy bear to hug and caress. She kept bringing the stuffed animals, purchased with her own money, to give to ailing children. That is why she was simply called The Teddy Bear Lady.
Her name was Gladys Holm, a retired secretary for an insurance company, who lived alone in a tiny apartment in Evanston. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford better, although no one except her attorney and stockbroker knew she was quite wealthy.
When she died at age 86, she had a portfolio worth over $18 million. She had never married and had no heirs. Her will simply directed that the bulk of her estate be given to The Children’s Memorial Hospital. Her gift was to go to medical research so that new methods of treating sick or disabled children might be developed.
The hospital authorities were absolutely shocked by the news. No one had the slightest idea that the tall happy woman delivering teddy bears to ailing children had such wealth. As they began to piece together more of her life’s story, they discovered something else. They learned that the gifts of teddy bears were really a ruse. She gave away teddy bears to learn more about the financial resources of the families of the children. When she learned that parents did not have hospitalization or enough to cover medical expenses, she very quietly had taken care of their bills.
One wonders if Gladys Holm was simply putting into practice what the One known as the Great Physician had recommended: “When you give … sound no trumpet before you …. When you give … do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift may be in secret …” (Matthew 6:2-4).
At the hospital’s memorial service for Gladys, someone had put a teddy bear on every chair.