She says her high school home economics teacher gave her a passing grade just to get rid of her.
But Gwen’s sewing skills improved years later when she was visiting her college roommate. She was making a doll for her daughter, Robin, and convinced Gwen she could do that, too. Not only did Gwen make a doll while there, but using her $25 sewing machine back in Waleska, she made more of them.
At first she made the dolls to give as gifts.
Encouraged by friends and family, she decided to make and sell them.
The dolls are totally soft. Dolls like them were made at about the time of the Civil War and were called Pew Babies. Since they were soft, little girls were allowed to take them to church.
Friends and family joined Gwen in deciding on a name for the dolls. It was Gwen’s husband, Buddy Lord, who found the one that was just right.
While he was driving to and from Atlanta each working day, he would listen to books on tape. “Silas Marner” was his choice at the time.
In the story, a little girl whose mother had died in the cold wandered to the home of Silas Marner. He named her Hephzibah and called her Eppie. Thus, the dolls are called Eppie the Pew Baby.
Soon what started as a hobby became a business.
The demand for the dolls became so great Gwen could not do all of the work herself, so she contracted with others to help.
For most of her young life, Gwen had wanted to be a missionary. Her mother did not approve so that did not happen.
Those who know Gwen should not have been surprised when she, with the help of her son, Stephen, formed a nonprofit organization to provide Eppie the Pew Baby to children worldwide in hospitals, orphanages and areas where disasters had destroyed everything people had.
Thousands of the dolls have been distributed. Some have been sent to missionaries for the children they are serving. At times, Gwen has personally put the dolls in the hands of needy children in countries like Russia, Australia and Cambodia.
After the disaster in Haiti, she was approached by local minister Spencer Nix, founder of Grace to the Nations, who was leading an effort to send Eppie the Pew Baby to orphans there. Of course, she agreed to do it.
With larger and larger orders, it was clear Gwen needed even more help. The people of the church where she and Buddy are members, Canton First Baptist, rallied to the cause.
In numbers ranging from the 50s to the 20s, they began meeting at the church on Tuesday afternoons. For two hours they are sewing, cutting fabric and ribbon, stuffing the dolls, counting out zippers, packaging the dolls for shipping, etc.
Recently, Gwen was contacted by a PTA in New York wanting to help children who lost everything in the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy. The person who called wanted eight or 10 dolls since that was all they could afford.
Gwen explained that she does not ship fewer than 100 dolls at a time and there is no charge other than postage — if they can afford to pay that.
So how is all of this financed? Gwen says it amazes her how needs are met. Most of it is from contributions of money or materials. For example, one donation came from a company in Chatsworth. It was 700 pounds of stuffing.
How many times have you heard about hardships of others and thought, “I wish there was something I could do to help those people.”
Well, this is something you can do. You can work in your home sewing, cutting fabric or hand-stitching.
Gwen will get needed supplies to you. Or, you can be a Pew Baby Volunteer at Canton First Baptist Church on Tuesday afternoons beginning in March. The group takes a break during January and February.
In any case, Gwen Lord invites you to call her at (770) 479-9569 to talk with her about the work you are willing to do or contributions you can make. Or, you can e-mail her at email@example.com.
As columnist Glenn Hannigan wrote over a decade ago, “Gwen Taylor Lord has a plan to make the world a better place, one stitch at a time.”
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.