RIP, Gwen Mastin

I just received the sad news last night that Gwen Mastin, chief executive officer of New Phoenix Assistance Center, died on Friday.

It’s been a big month for deaths already-I’ve written about Carlos Hernandez Gomez, Howard Zinn and J.D. Salinger earlier in the month-and now we add Ms. Mastin to the list.

I got to know her while working under Martin Clayton for South Shore Community News in 2004 and 2005.   A Thanksgiving dinner for homeless families was the first event I covered; I later wrote about her receiving an award at the Thompson Center-an event at which the later nationally controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright also received recognition.

Ever gracious and committed to her clients, Ms. Mastin helped me understand that housing is health care in the sense that people who are homeless are far less likely to attend doctor’s appointments and tend to their health.  Her tireless support of, and advocacy for, people with HIV and AIDS gave me a better sense of what a major issue the virus is in Chicago’s black community.  And she modeled a life of unstinting service to the community in which the needs of the clients, rather than the providers, always came first.

At the same time, I’ll remember her most strongly for the kindness she showed Aidan.

Around Christmas of 2005, Aidan started a snow shoveling business in an effort to make enough money to buy a Play Station.

He created business cards, practiced his speech with Dunreith and went around to the neighborhood to rustle up business.

Aidan did not name his price-he figured correctly that his customers would give him more than he would charge-but he did say that he would donate 50 percent of his earnings to charity.

A few people told him that was too much, and, after earning enough to purchase a video system, he had $20 to donate.

I suggested he give it to New Phoenix.

He agreed, so on a weekend afternoon we drove down to the South Side and Ms. Mastin’s home.

She asked him about his favorite subjects.  She meant academic.  Aidan dodged for a while, talking about gym and lunch and recess, but eventually gave her the information she sought.

He also gave her the $20.

“It’s not that much,” he said, in essence, as he handed the bill to her.

Ms. Mastin disagreed.

But, rather than tell Aidan he was wrong, she told him about all the kind of things she could do for the families she worked with with the $20 he had donated.

She talked about the turkey she could buy for a family that had none.  She explained that she could get heaps of clothes for a mother who could not provide them for her children.  And she told Aidan about the canned goods that she would add to a family’s basket.

“Please don’t think your gift is small,” she was telling him.

Aidan didn’t seem convinced, but he had listened.

Now, unfortunately, she is no longer with us.

But the memory of her kindness, her compassion, her unstinting commitment and her receipt of Aidan’s gift will remain.

I will miss her and send condolences to her sons and the rest of the New Phoenix family.


6 responses to “RIP, Gwen Mastin

  1. Colette Schrank

    How eloquently you describe Gwen Mastin and her work. She epitomizes love, service and compassion. She is at rest and at peace and we bless and thank her for all she has done for each of us!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Colette, for your kind words. I couldn’t agree with you more about Ms. Mastin and her work and your thoughts about it.


  2. I wanted to thank you for the beautiful article. My brothers & I are extremely thankful for the support & loving comments that have been pouring in. Sorry for the last minute notice but her memorial service will be Friday @ 2:00pm at A.A. Rayner 318 E. 71st St. Please feel free to stop by or invite anyone that knew her.

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks very much for your kind words. I will try to make it tomorrow, but do not know if I will be able to do so. In either case, please know that our family sends our condolences to your on the death of your mother. She was indeed a wonderful person.


  3. I met Gwen through Telephone Pioneers. I sent her my christmas letter each year after I retired. This last letter came back and I feared the worst.
    RIP Gwen, you will be missed.

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