Voices of Houston: Meet Dorothy Gibbons, a local leader helping more than 40K women annually

The Rose Houston Mobile Mammography Reveal in Brazoria County (Rena O. Productions, Rena O. Productions LLC.)

HOUSTON – It was the mid 1980s when Houston faced the economic downfall of the oil bust. During this time many businesses faced foreclosures, and lots of people were out of work.

During a time of despair, two women made it their mission to help those in desperate need.

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At the time, co-founders Dorothy Gibbons and Dr. Dixie Melillo were working at Bayshore Medical Center. With many patients out of work, Houstonians were left uninsured and unable to pay for health checkups.

“It became very obvious how many women did not have insurance. We were seeing a lot of late-stage breast cancer,” said Gibbons, co-founder of The Rose.

Dorothy Gibbons, co-founder of the Rose (The Rose)

It wasn’t until Rose Kushner, a journalist for the Baltimore Sun, encouraged Gibbons and Dr. Melillo to leave the hospital and begin an organization that would impact more than 40,000 women and men annually.

In 1986, The Rose began its operation, becoming the first nonprofit breast cancer organization based on the insured covering the costs of the uninsured.

“I am surprised that 35 years later we are still as needed,” said Gibbons.

Photographs by Emily Jaschke (Emily Jaschke)

One of its programs is the Empower Her Sponsorship Program, supporting uninsured women. According to The Rose, this program ensures any woman has access to breast cancer screening, diagnosis and care. From the initial screening mammogram, through diagnostic procedures such as ultrasound and biopsies as well as access to treatment - all are a part of The Rose’s care for every woman.

“We call our women ‘Sponsored Women’ because we think everyone sometimes in their life needs a little help,” said Gibbons. “We don’t ever call our women indigent or anything like that because most of them are not. They’re working women, and they just don’t have insurance.”

For Gibbons, her life mission has been to empower women and help families in desperate need. This was something that hit close to home when Gibbons lost her mother to cancer at the age of 22.

Dorothy Gibbons and her mother (KPRC)

“I remember when I was at her bedside when she died and even in my 20-year-old mind, I thought, what would have been different about her care if she’d had insurance," recalled Gibbons.

Having lost her mother at a young age, Gibbons understood the importance of family and created an organization to keep the fabric of family together.

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“When you lose your mother when you’re young, that is the fabric of the family. You know that’s a person that keeps you together, and I know our life would have been very, very different if she had lived," said Gibbons. "That is why the work of The Rose is important. We are keeping those mothers and fathers alive.”

Co-founder Dorothy Gibbons in front of the Rose Medical Plaza in Houston (The Rose)

For nearly four decades, The Rose has kept families together by providing a myriad of resources to all individuals.

Throughout the years, the non-profit has provided early detection mammography screenings, diagnosis, treatment and a continuum of care for all women throughout 41 counties in Southeast Texas.

“We are an organization that is supported by the community. You know, we depend on those fundraisers and on those gifts, and we’re very grateful that we’ve had so much support over these 35 years.”

Today, Gibbons' leadership has led to many firsts and has earned numerous accolades in the city and across the nation. Dorothy’s deep commitment to all women being heard and having quality care is rooted in her own humble beginnings and cemented by the thousands of encounters she’s had helping patients through the years.

The Rose headquarter located in Houston (The Rose)

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About the Author:

Carlos Hernandez is the Digital Content Specialist for KPRC 2. He is a content guru for all things to do in and around Houston, historical pieces, foodie finds and local guides. Carlos was previously a lifestyle producer for KPRC 2's talk show "Houston Life."