On the evening of Aug. 31, life for the Gbayor family of Mayfair took a tragic turn.
Nilsa Gbayor and her husband, Benjamin, along with four of their eight children, were driving home from a children’s football game when Benjamin stopped the car at Jasper Street and Allegheny Avenue because he had seen a friend quarreling with a stranger.
The exact details of what followed are unclear, but at some point, the stranger pulled out a gun and began firing.
Benjamin Gbayor was wounded, and three bullets had struck Nilsa while she sat in the car. Nilsa Gbayor was pronounced dead several hours later at Temple University Hospital.
Nilsa was just 39 years old. She was a registered nurse and worked as a unit healthcare coordinator at Albert Einstein Hospital. Prior to moving to Mayfair, the Gbayor family lived in Port Richmond. It was there that Nilsa met and became great friends with Amanda and Phoebe Cowley, two young women who worked at Premiere Pediatrics at Aramingo and Allegheny avenues.
Phoebe Cowley, 29, is the officer manager and medical assistant. Amanda Cowley, 22, is the office receptionist. Two of the Gbayor children have serious health issues — a one-year-old has pediatric cancer, and a three-year-old has a congenital heart defect, so Nilsa was practically a fixture at the pediatrician’s office.
“She was an extraordinary person and a wonderful mother who always put the needs of her children first,” said Phoebe Cowley. “She worked the night shift at Einstein Hospital and would bring her kids into the office early in the morning, looking so tired. She was such a kind person that I always looked forward to seeing her and her beautiful children.”
Knowing that the Gbayor family was in a difficult financial situation this year, Phoebe and Amanda Cowley wanted to do something to make sure that Nilsa’s family would not have to go without on Christmas.
“We wanted to make the children’s Christmas not focused so much on losing their mother, but more on what Christmas is about, presents that you put on your list for Santa Claus, and spending time with the ones you care for,” Amanda Cowley said. “That’s why we decided to try and raise money by baking and selling cookies.”
The girls began baking cookies in the evenings and selling them during the day at Premiere Pediatrics and at Johnny B’s Pizzeria on Allegheny Avenue. They already have made more than $350, and they said they are not done yet. They plan to continue baking and selling cookies right up until the week before Christmas.
Meanwhile in Fishtown, Kenny Hepworth, owner of Anthony’s Café, Oxford Street and Girard Avenue, was working on a plan to collect toys for children hospitalized at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Kenny came upon a short message of thanks to the Cowley sisters from a friend in the Nov. 14 issue of Star.
“When I read about what those girls were doing, I was incredibly moved,” Hepworth said. “For a mother to die so young and leave behind eight children is just about as bad as it gets. I knew immediately that I wanted to get involved.”
Hepworth, who has seven children of his own, wanted to take care of Christmas dinner for Benjamin Gbayor and the eight children. Hepworth also wanted to make sure that the family had a nice Christmas tree and plenty of presents to open on Christmas day.
So Hepworth contacted the Cowley girls and told them that he wanted to help.
“When we got the phone call from Mr. Hepworth, my sister and I were completely at a loss for words, which doesn’t happen that often,” said Phoebe Cowley. “It was one of the kindest things that we had ever heard of.”
The team from Anthony’s Cafe already has met with the Cowley sisters and they are now putting their collective resources together to help the Gbayors.
“This isn’t just me doing this,” Hepworth asserts. “This is the entire Anthony’s Café family. This is my bartenders, my customers, and my closest friends all throwing [in] a little bit so that these kids can have a merry Christmas.”
Contributor Greg Pacana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.