On the heels of celebration, just following her 16th birthday on August 11, 2003, Gwynora “Nora” Hemphill was diagnosed with liver cancer. Despite her trials with chemotherapy, multiple surgeries and the weight and hair loss that came with the cancer treatments, Hemphill, a student at George Mason High School at the time, impressively retained a positive attitude. Instead of focusing on herself and falling victim to pity, Hemphill turned her concentration outward to her community, helping others in need until she passed away in May of 2006.
To honor Hemphill and remember her devotion to helping others, the idea of Nora’s Garden was born. And now the Senior Courtyard at George Mason High School will become the home of a beautiful patch of flora. The purpose of Nora’s Garden is to create “a place to laugh, dream and hope.”
The non-profit organization Nora’s Garden, Inc. hopes to “provide a perennially beautiful spot, available to every student.” The association was established for the construction and continued maintenance of Nora’s Garden, enabling it to be a place of growth and a harbor for students now and in the future.
Many individuals contributed to the garden project in unique ways, such as The Board of Directors for Nora's Garden, including Bob Snee, the Principal of George Mason High School and Bob Nissen, the Maintenance Supervisor at George Mason High School. Longtime City of Falls Church residents Susan Maynard, Landscape Designer and Katie Emmons, Gardener. Another contributed is one of Nora’s former teachers at George Mason, English teacher Michael Hoover, the former Senior Class Advisor in 2005 who has since retired.
Also playing an important role is Dana Cazan, who’s from the student body at George Mason. Cazan is the Senior Class Liaison and Editor of Lasso Online, covering stories of student volunteers donating their time to work in the garden and reporting monetary pledges. Hemphill’s father, Tom Hemphill contributed as well by designing the garden’s stone patio, bench and fountain pedestal.
A planting day will be held at the garden on May 10 from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. with the official dedication ceremony tentatively scheduled for June 1, at 4 p.m.
The effort and outreach of those involved was epitomized by Nora's life. Just over a year after being diagnosed with cancer, Hemphill organized a fundraiser to benefit the Leukemia Lymphoma Society in September of 2004, successfully raising $4,700. With this money, she sponsored four-year-old Leah Holdcraft, supporting the child in her own fight with the disease and participating in the annual “Light the Night Walk,” which raised money for cancer research and aid.
Just as the garden thrives, so does little Leah Holdcraft. Leah received a bone marrow transplant three months before her fourth birthday and is now a precocious eight-year-old. Leah’s mother, Carrie Holdcraft, will always remember Hemphill and her involvement with her daughter and the Light the Night Walk team.
“Nora was a very special girl and we were so blessed in the short time we knew her,” says Holdcraft.
In this little girl a piece of Hemphill’s legacy of giving lives on to grow and flourish, much like the garden planted in her name.