By James Ponder
November 1954 was an important month for the woman who would later help found the Big Hearts for Little Hearts Desert Guild to raise money and awareness for the patients of Loma Linda University Children's Hospital in the Coachella Valley.
To hear E. Jane Woolley, M.D., tell the story is to catch the smile on her face and the twinkle in her eye.
That doesn't mean things have always been easy for Jane, as she prefers to be called. Back in the early 1950s, women who wanted to become physicians faced daunting obstacles. Despite the fact that a women's group provided her a full scholarship to the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she encountered strong resistance from males who felt women should not be allowed to be doctors. She eventually prevailed, however, becoming one of only three women admitted into a class of 100.
After graduation, Jane took a rotating internship at Los Angeles County General Hospital. For some reason, she kept noticing one of the residents, a guy named Morton M. Woolley, M.D. Mort, as he told her to call him, was friendly and professional. Jane thought he was also quite handsome. One of her chiefs told her Mort had good judgment, so she traded a psychiatry service for one of Mort's surgical services and a romance began.
One momentous November day, Mort stopped at the resident's mailboxes to collect his paycheck and asked Jane a simple question: "How would you like to help me spend this?"
"I would love to!" she replied. The couple cashed the check and soon found lots of things to do together. They married the following July.
Sometime after their marriage, Mort—who had graduated as president of the Class of 1951 from the College of Medical Evangelists, as Loma Linda University School of Medicine was then known—mentioned to one of his mentors at Los Angeles County General Hospital that the institution's pediatric coverage was "a little thin." To rectify the situation, he volunteered to take a residency in pediatric surgery at Boston Children's Hospital. The offer was accepted.
While Mort studied for three years under Richard Gross, M.D., then widely regarded as the best pediatric surgeon in the world, Jane completed an anesthesiology residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. When their programs ended, the couple returned to Southern California and bought a house in Glendale.
Jane went to work as an anesthesiologist at Verdugo Hills Hospital in Glendale while Mort divided his time between Children's Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA) and White Memorial Hospital. When he was asked to run the residency program in pediatric surgery at CHLA, he gradually transitioned there full time, eventually being appointed surgeon-in-chief in 1972.
Throughout his career, Mort kept an eye on what was happening in Loma Linda. He mentored many LLU School of Medicine residents in pediatric surgery and spearheaded the creation of the first endowed chair at the school in honor of former anatomy professor, Samuel Crooks. He also encouraged the organization to establish Loma Linda University Children's Hospital (LLUCH).
Mort retired in 1992 and Jane followed two years later. They planned to move to the Palm Springs area right away, but the 1994 Northridge earthquake wreaked havoc on the chimney of their home. A year later, repairs duly made, they finally sold the house and moved to Rancho Mirage.
"Shirley Pettis and I used to drive to church together," Jane remembers. "In 2002, the director of the Children's Hospital Foundation encouraged Shirley to start a Desert Guild. Shirley persisted in recruiting me. We had a membership tea at Morningside. I invited Jeanne Mace, Mardell Brandt, Dale Rotner, Terry Siegel, and Joyce Engle. Shirley invited Mary Ann Xavier. All of these remarkable ladies have served as president of the Desert Guild. We had our first event with a guest speaker who was a survivor of Auschwitz, at the Annenberg Center at Eisenhower Medical Center."
Despite the fact that the guild has raised more than $1.7 million so far, Jane prefers working behind the scenes. She is happy to claim, with Shirley Pettis, the title of co-founder.
In 2014, the Big Hearts for Little Hearts Desert Guild established the Woolley-Pettis Endowed Chair, named in honor of the guild founders. This is the first endowed chair at LLUCH and will be used for teaching and research. The Woolleys have chosen to support this endowed chair, as well as an endowed chair at the School of Medicine, through several planned gifts. By including these chairs as beneficiaries of their estate plans and their retirement accounts, the Woolleys will make a significant impact on the future of these funds.
In addition to working with the desert guild Jane has many hobbies. But she is very proud of Mort.
"He may be 91 years old, but he still plays golf at least three times a week," she says, gesturing to the immaculate greens behind their sumptuous Desert home.
A moment later, she affixes a postscript to her answer to Mort's initial question—the one about helping him spend that paycheck.
"I've been doing it ever since," she grins.
Learn how you can follow in the Woolleys footsteps and leave a lasting legacy at Loma Linda University. Contact Todd Mekelburg at email@example.com or 909-558-4553 to discuss your options.
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