The name Sister Robert Joseph Bailey might sound strange to some, but the woman who took a man's name had a deep and lasting impact on the Southern Nevada community. In 2007, four years after her death, the Whitney-area Sister Robert Joseph Bailey Elementary School was named for her.
"There was some resistance at naming a public school for her, as some people wondered if it was going against the separation of church and state," said Sheila Moulton, who served on the Clark County School Board at the time. "As soon as they found out what she had done, they were readily supportive of the school being named for her."
Moulton served from 1999 to 2011 during a time of explosive growth for the school system, and she said around 100 new schools were built and named during her tenure.
"We had what I thought was a very fair name application process," Moulton said.
Bailey was born Margaret Bailey in Detroit in 1923 and took the name of her beloved younger brother Robert when she entered into the Dominican Order of Sisters in 1940. At the time, masculine names were not an unusual choice.
In a June 27, 1997, Las Vegas Sun article, Bailey noted that she declined to switch back to her birth name when offered the opportunity to do so 20 years earlier.
"(Robert's) blue eyes looked at me and he said, 'Sis, are you gonna keep my name or go back to your own?' " the article quoted her as saying. "What would you do?"
Bailey's brother was an electrician who died in 1996.
The article also added that around St. Rose , Bailey often went by the nickname Bobbie Jo.
Bailey began teaching in 1941 and served in several elementary schools across the country, including schools in Illinois, Michigan, Florida and Arizona.
She came to Henderson in 1951 and taught fourth and fifth grade at St. Peter's Elementary School, at the time a part of St. Peter the Apostle Church.
When the school closed in 1960, she began work at what is now the Rose de Lima Campus of St. Rose Dominican Hospital. She took on the responsibility for dietary services and eventually community education.
Sister Michael Thomas Watson, volunteer supervisor at the Rose de Lima Campus, said she knew and worked with Bailey practically all of her religious life, a length of service that has spanned 61 years. She keeps a stack of letters detailing Bailey's many contributions to the wellbeing of the community in general and children in specific.
Bailey developed health education programs for children at the Rose de Lima Campus and presented health programs to public schools all over the district for many years. She is also credited with starting and pushing forward several community programs for children including the Positive Impact Program, which provides free medical and dental care to children of low-income families, and the Positive Impact Reading Program, which pairs senior volunteers with children having trouble with reading.
Watson remembers Bailey as someone who always looked out for children.
"Just a few weeks ago a man came in here with his wife and asked if I'd known Sister Robert," Watson said. "He wanted to tell me how much he'd admired her."
He told Watson that he'd been the principal of a school and he brought one of his students who had injured his arm on the playground to the hospital. Bailey met them at the emergency room and when the principal informed her the boy's parents had no insurance or money, she told him, "Don't worry about that now. Let's just look to this boy for now."
Bailey took the case under her wing and made sure the boy got first-rate medical attention. The principal wasn't sure how she did it, but the boy's parents never saw a bill.
Bailey did not live to see the school at 4525 Jimmy Durante Blvd. named for her, but just a few months before her death in May 2003, she received another unique honor. For several years the hospital celebrated Women's History Month by creating a children's book, written by local author Carol Bower and illustrated by Henderson schoolchildren. That year it created a book titled "Sister Buckaroo" in honor of Bailey's love for Western style and her days cheering up sick children with Buckaroo Day activities.
At the time she was retired and living in Michigan and was too ill to comment on the honor.
Moulton said that the while she never got to meet Bailey, her colleagues at the hospital adopted the school named in her honor.
"The staff of Rose de Lima are still great supporters of the school," Moulton said. "They made great commitments to help students and to provide extra resources to the school."
Contact Sunrise/Whitney View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 380-4532.