City native Tamla “Tammie” Cuthrell built her life on serving others.
Whether it was her family, friends or her clients at the department of Social Services where she worked for 14 years, the UNC Chapel Hill alumna was known for her giving nature and willingness to do whatever she could for her fellow man.
“She never was a taker,” said her father, Robert Galloway. “She never wanted you to give her anything unless she really needed it.” Cuthrell passed away March 9, following a courageous four year-long battle with breast cancer. It was a crushing turn of events for the many people who loved her and drew hope and inspiration from her unflinching resolve, even in the face of her illness.
“It was quite a blow,” her husband, Aaron Cuthrell, said of losing his wife of 16 years. “She was a very wonderful, loving person, very giving of her talents and herself. I miss her big personality, her doing for others. Even though she was going through (trials) herself, she would set that aside and go and do what she had to do.”
“There is one thing only you can do for yourself,” Tammie was fond of saying, “live.”
Friends say Tammie did just that, making every moment count until she reached the end of her road.
“If nothing else, I learned from watching her never to give up,” commented Wilma Davis, a friend and breast cancer survivor. “She didn’t complain, I never heard her complain. She fought with grace – that’s the thing I was in awe of.”
Maurice Coleman II, the second of Cuthrell’s three sons, said her nurturing spirit and compassionate nature are among the characteristics he will always remember when he thinks of his mom.
“I just miss her warm personality,” remarked the 25 year-old. “She was always willing to help somebody else.”
Even in her suffering, Tammie was thinking of others, using her own story to encourage other survivors and implore women to be mindful of their health.
“She wanted to bring awareness, not only to the disease but that it affects people of color, also,” her husband said. “She found her lump herself, through self exam, so she wanted to let women know how important it is to take care of yourself.”
Tammie had participated in the Northwest North Carolina Affiliate of Susan G. Komen’s annual Race for the Cure fundraiser in 2011, and her mother, Rev. Parthenia Galloway, encouraged her to start her own team, not knowing she was helping her daughter establish what would become her legacy: Team Pink Gem.
“She had walked with another group before and I said, ‘Why don’t we get a group?’ I said, ‘We’ve got enough people we can do our own team,’” related Rev. Galloway.
Not long afterwards, Tammie penned a poem about pink gems, which she said, are “transparent, yet durable … formed under earth by intense heat and pressure, allowing erosion and weathering to polish it to perfection, as its impurities add to its value.”
The poem became the inspiration for her Race for the Cure team, Team Pink Gem.
“All of a sudden, it was just a drive to get it done and to bring it to fruition,” Rev. Galloway related. “I said, ‘Tammie, I see God birthing ministry through you, even in the midst of what you’re going through – I’m amazed.’”
The team attracted 65 members in its inaugural year.
“It was amazing to see everybody in our little brown t-shirts with the pink gem on it,” Davis recalled. “Just having her there was amazing because from one moment to the next, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Tammie dreamed of doing more, raising more awareness, garnering more funds, and so she pressed on, assembling the Pink Gem organization to continue her mission of advocacy and raising those all important funds for breast cancer research and screenings for uninsured and underinsured women. Her passion for the organization was infectious, members said.
“Just hearing her talk about it, it’s like all you wanted to do is be involved,” said her niece, Erin Green.
In December, Team Pink Gem was the beneficiary of a toy drive and breast cancer awareness program hosted by 1340/1400 The Light Christian radio station. Decked out in bright pink from head to toe, Tammie defied all expectations when she took the podium to preach her familiar message of awareness.
“Our community needs to be represented because breast cancer doesn’t only happen to other people,” she told the audience. “It’s here in our community, too.”
As her health declined, Tammie relinquished the reins of the organization to her Pink Gem teammates. Her husband said she was happy to have such capable hands to leave it in.
“She was really impressed by their drive to get the project done and the ideas that they had for the Pink Gem foundation,” Cuthrell said of Pink Gem members. “I think it was a big relief because in the past, she had done it all by herself.”
Tammie had set a goal of amassing 100 participants for this year’s team, which will take part in the Komen Race at Salem College on May 4. Her friends and loved ones say they are determined to make certain that Pink Gem exceeds even her lofty expectations.
“You have to give back,” Davis said. “That’s who she was, and we can’t let that die.”
Co-Captain Rhonda Caviness said being involved with the team has been therapeutic for her as she grieves the loss of her friend.
“Just to know that we’re carrying on something that she was so passionate about, it’s just an honor and a privilege, really, to be involved and see it grow,” she said, adding that 45 people have signed up for the team thus far.
Dr. Soncerey Montgomery, a Winston-Salem State University professor and co-captain of the team, said she believes it is the best way to honor Tammie. Team members say they believe Cuthrell will be smiling down “and nudging us along” this May.
“The gem is a precious stone and that’s who she was to us, just a real special, treasured jewel,” Montgomery said. “…Her cousin preached her funeral about how there will be glory after this, and we just see that being manifested already.”
Tammie is also survived by her sons, Rafael Coleman and Andrew Cuthrell; and her brother, Anthony Galloway.
For more information about Team Pink Gem, visit www.pinkgem.org, email email@example.com or contact Caviness at 336-407-4605. To join Team Pink Gem members, visit komennctriad.org and register under “Pink Gem.” Those who are not able to participate may sign up to fundraise for the event as “virtual runners.”