Cater won’t be home celebrating with family. She’ll be at the bedside of an elderly woman who is in critical condition at Doctors Hospital’s trauma burn center in Augusta.
The 59-year-old grandmother from Mableton put her Thanksgiving plans aside when she got a call Tuesday from someone at Parkland Manor Senior Apartments near Austell, where she had worked as a security guard from 2010 through late 2012. Cater was informed that a woman in her seventies named Delia Ann Mills, known simply as “Miss Ann” by the residents of Parkland Manor, had suffered horrible burns following a Nov. 21 fire in her apartment.
Cater immediately remembered the woman as someone she had befriended.
But the news regarding “Miss Ann” wasn’t good.
“They said she was unrecognizable. She was just burned too bad,” Cater said.
Miss Ann was airlifted from WellStar in Marietta to the burn center in Augusta and remains in ICU.
“They called me because nobody has any information on her,” Cater said. “They said she had put my name down on a card as her only contact. They can’t find her family.”
Cater, who works as a part-time bailiff in Judge James Bodiford’s courtroom at Cobb Superior Court, is now desperately trying to recall details about Miss Ann’s few family members from conversations more than a year ago. She knows the woman had two sons and a granddaughter. She remembers Miss Ann talking about a son named Kenny and another son who was incarcerated at the time but may now be free.
“She also mentioned a granddaughter. I think her last name may have been East, but I’m not even sure,” she said. Miss Ann hails from Rock Hill, S.C., but has lived in Cobb County public housing projects for many years.
Cater said Miss Ann was very frail and not in good health even before she got burned in the fire.
“She worked in a mill in South Carolina and suffered from cotton lung,” Cater said. “That could be where some of her family is. We need to find her blood family. The hospital needs her blood family.”
Driving to Augusta
Cater was planning to head out Wednesday evening on the two-and-half-hour drive to Augusta, where Miss Ann was lying heavily sedated at Doctors Hospital.
“I don’t want her to wake up and nobody’s there,” said Cater, who described Miss Ann as a “loner,” who had been abused by her former husband years ago and was misunderstood by most of the residents and staff at the apartment complex.
“When I was the security guard at Parkland, everyone knew to send Miss Ann to me,” Cater said. “She was an abused person. She smoked a lot and had cotton lung. My mother died of cotton lung, so I knew what it could do to you.”
Cater said Miss Ann had endured a life of hardship and didn’t relate well with others. She found in Cater someone to whom she could unload some of her most difficult burdens.
“She told me she had a baby on a snowy roadside in North Carolina,” Cater said. “A police officer found her there. She’d gone into labor right there, and he took her to the hospital. That was her son, Kenny. She lost another baby girl, I think because of the abuse.”
The old lady could come across as mean at times, if you didn’t understand her.
“People thought she was mentally ill, but she was not mentally ill,” Cater said.
“I have a young granddaughter, Olivia, and I let her become Miss Ann’s granddaughter. That gave her something to live for.”
It was a closeness that Miss Ann had never experienced with any of her real family.
Hoping for a miracle
Cater said she came to her local newspaper, the Marietta Daily Journal, on Wednesday hoping the paper might be able to help get the word out about Miss Ann’s dire situation. Maybe someone will see this article who knows one of her family members, possibly her son Kenny or her granddaughter.
“All I know is to come to the media,” she said.
Bodiford, the Superior Court judge, said Wednesday he was not aware of his bailiff’s quest to find a family member of an injured woman lying in a hospital bed halfway across the state.
“She didn’t say anything about it but it really doesn’t surprise me. Mary has a servant’s heart,” Bodiford said. “Mary’s been with me now for more than 12 years. Her family, I think, has been in Cobb County for more than 100 years. Mary has a huge heart and does a great job as a bailiff working with everyone, particularly the jurors. She’s the type of person we like to have work for us because she can take care of them and make them as comfortable as possible” in a stressful courtroom environment.
“If that woman has no family, Mary’s going to be holding her hand on Thanksgiving Day,” Bodiford continued. “That sounds like something Mary would do.”
But for Mary Cater, jumping in a car and driving to Augusta on a moment’s notice the day before Thanksgiving isn’t seen as unusual. She never knows what the next day will bring.
“I’m an evangelist in the Church. I don’t wait,” she said. “If the Lord says go, I go.”