Creating a legacy

TUPELO – Business woman Linda Kay Gilreath left this earth nearly three years ago, but she will help others fight cancer, go to school and rebuild their lives for decades to come.
Gilreath, who worked for Aflac for more than 20 years, left more than $500,000 each to the North Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Patient Assistance Fund, Itawamba Community College and Regional Rehabilitation Center.
“She did this so she could keep her work perpetually going,” said her cousin Ginger Hardy, who also works for Aflac. “That’s what she enjoyed doing was helping people.”
All three organizations are putting Gilreath’s gifts into endowments so her gifts can keep giving for years to come.
“It’s the second largest gift we’ve ever received,” said Dean Hancock, president of the Health Care Foundation of North Mississippi, which oversees the NMMC Cancer Patient Assistance Fund. “The Linda Kay Gilreath endowment will be perpetual and permanent.
The gifts don’t reduce the need for other fundraising, but they do give the organizations a welcome stability in rocky economic times.
“You can’t quit doing what you’re doing,” said Kay Mathews, executive director of Regional Rehab. “But it lets us breathe easy.”
The NMMC Cancer Patient Assistance fund helps cancer patients with support medication, transportation and emergency utilities. Gilreath’s gift helps the group provide for those in dire need and then reach out to others.
“We can help without having to limit that service we provide,” said Cindy Edwards, NMMC Cancer Center social worker, who guides how the funds are dispersed.
At ICC, the first Gilreath scholarships will be awarded to needy students entering this fall. The college is taking applications online and is developing the guidelines for the scholarships to cover tuition and perhaps textbooks.
“It’s a very generous gift,” said ICC’s Mike Eaton, administrative assistant to the president. “The college is most appreciative of her gift.”
This year, the college anticipates being able to help 15 to 20 students, Eaton said. As the economy picks up and interest rates rise, the college hopes to expand that number.
Cancer touched Gilreath professionally and personally.
“She saw the impact of cancer,” as part of her work, Hardy said. “She saw firsthand over the past 30 years how much people needed the extra money when they had cancer treatment.”
Gilreath fought cancer herself the last nine months of her life before she died in 2007.
The cancer patient assistance fund disperses between $200,000 and $300,000 to help patients in need each year, Hancock said.
The fund helps with support medications help patients fight the side effects of chemotherapy such as nausea and pain as well as nutritional supplements for patients.
Transportation services are vitally important to needy patients who may have no access or are too ill to drive.
“If you can’t get to treatment, what good is treatment?” Edwards said.

Therapy assistance
Regional Rehab has a $1 million budget, but they haven’t charged children and adults for physical, occupational and speech therapies at the Tupelo center during its 50 years of operation. Gilreath’s gift will help keep that tradition alive for the next 50 years and beyond, Mathews said.
“I knew Kay had a special place for us,” Mathews said, because of the poinsettia arrangements she would send every Christmas. “She was our Aflac agent. The relationship goes back years.”
But Mathews said she had no idea that Gilreath had made provisions for the center.
“For us, $25,000 is a generous gift,” Mathews said. “I was literally blown away.”

Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal