A Generous Life, Shortened By COVID-19
Bill Bauer was the kind of guy Mimi Stallings had dreamed of since she was a girl — patient and kind, a good listener who had the old-fashioned charm to surprise her with a box of candy when he picked her up for a date.
“To me, he was just perfect,” she said.
The two met in the spring of 1963 when Mimi was a 21-year-old working at a Duke Medical Center lab and Bill was a student at UNC Chapel Hill. Mimi showed up at Bill’s fraternity house while out with friends one night, and the attraction was undeniable.
“It was one of those instant things,” Mimi said. “We just stared at each other all night.”
Their love affair would span 57 years, complete with two sons and a daughter, Bill’s 35-year career at First Union National Bank, nearly two decades of retirement and six grandchildren.
Their years together ended last Thursday, when Bill Bauer died of COVID-19 at Atrium Health Pineville. He was 78. He’s one of 31 Mecklenburg residents who have died in connection with the coronavirus.
First, A Fever
Bill Bauer’s first and only early symptom, a fever, showed up on the afternoon of March 18. The next morning, Mimi took him to the doctor, where they were told he didn’t show symptoms of coronavirus.
Bill Bauer had been in immunotherapy treatment for melanoma at Levine Cancer Center since November, so Mimi Bauer called the cancer center on Friday, March 20, to report that Bill had a fever.
She asked if he should postpone a treatment scheduled for the following Monday and was given clear orders: Get him tested immediately for COVID-19. The next morning they got the results: He had tested positive.
Bill’s symptoms weren’t severe at first, so he stayed home, with Mimi caring for him. In the days that followed, he had fevers but never a cough.
“Some days, he’d think he was going to be well, and then the next day he didn’t feel well,” she said.
Exactly one week after his diagnosis, on March 28, Bill noticed a wheezing in his chest. Mimi panicked. She called Atrium Health’s 24-hour COVID-19 line, and an operator told her to take him immediately to the closest hospital.
“They said, ‘Don’t even call EMS, just put him in the car and drive him,’” she said.
When they arrived, Mimi pulled up to the front of the hospital. A staffer brought a wheelchair over and loaded Bill in.
“I said, ‘Let me park the car and I’ll be right back,’ and they said, ‘No, you can’t come in.’”
Within hours, Bill was on a ventilator and sedated.
The hospital was off-limits to all visitors, so a doctor would call Mimi Bauer every morning with a brief update. She would go the rest of the day wondering if her husband had woken up.
There were unexpected moments of grace. For three days in a row, Bill had a nurse named Tiffany, who would call Mimi just before her shift ended and put Mimi on speakerphone so her husband could hear her.
“She would say, ‘We don’t know if he can hear or not, but that’s the last sense to go,’” Mimi said. “I would talk to him and tell him that we wanted him to get well. I’d tell him things that the grandchildren were doing.”
In the days that followed, Bill’s condition worsened. Doctors asked Mimi if they could take him off the ventilator and perform a tracheotomy to give him more oxygen.
She talked to her three kids. They decided he’d fought long enough, and that it wasn’t what he would have wanted. His advance medical directive, which was already on file at the hospital, confirmed their decision: He didn’t want such extreme measures.
Last Wednesday, the doctors called Mimi. They told her that the next day, they’d take Bill off the ventilator and said she could come be with him in his final moments.
She arrived at Atrium Health Pineville last Thursday and spent time with a hospital chaplain. They helped her into a protective suit and led her into the room where Bill lay unconscious.
“I went in and was holding onto his arm when he breathed his last breaths. God love him,” Mimi said. “He was so sweet and kind, and as my daughter says, the love of my life.”
A Full Life
Bill Bauer was born in Orange, New Jersey, and moved to North Carolina to attend UNC Chapel Hill. After graduating, he worked his whole career for First Union, which moved the family from Gastonia to the mountain town of Franklin and then to Charlotte. He retired after a 35-year-career when he was 59. His father had died in his late 60s, and Bill wanted to make the most of his retirement years, Mimi said.
In retirement, he and Mimi enjoyed spending time with their sons, Hank and Greg, their daughter, Mary Catherine, and their in-law children and six grandchildren.
About twice a week, Bill would visit his mom, who is 103 and lives in a Charlotte assisted living facility. He and Mimi stayed active in their church, St. Gabriel Catholic Church, and would serve as overnight hosts for the homeless at Room at the Inn. Recently, they volunteered for the Homemakers of Mercy ministry, which provides furnished apartments for homeless women and children.
Bill Bauer loved taking his Ford Ranger pickup truck — which Mimi jokingly referred to as his “midlife crisis” — to scour estate and yard sales for reasonably priced furniture and household goods for the Homemakers of Mercy ministry.
“He was a very generous person with his time and his love,” Mimi said.
‘It Can Happen’
Mimi Bauer says she feels blessed by the support and affection she’s gotten from her family, friends and her Ballantyne-area neighborhood. Bill’s ashes will be placed in the St. Gabriel Columbarium, and a memorial service will be planned for a later date.
Mimi Bauer says she worried about her own health after her husband died, so she went to get tested for COVID-19. The test came back negative.
She’s still taking her temperature periodically to be sure she’s not getting sick. She has shown no symptoms.
“God works in mysterious ways,” she said.
Mimi says she has no idea how her husband contracted the virus. They don’t know anyone who has come down with COVID-19. They had four friends over for dinner on March 17, the day before Bill got sick, and so far they have all stayed healthy.
“I’d like for people to hear his story,” Mimi said, “to make it personal for someone, because some people are not taking care of themselves, and it can happen. It can happen, and they are gone.”
Reach managing editor Cristina Bolling at email@example.com.
This story originally appeared in the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter and was republished with permission.