Flossie Lee Bournes, a nurse in the early days of AIDS, dies of COVID-19 in new pandemic at 82

Because of the dangers of the coronavirus, her family couldn’t be with her final hours. ‘That’s my mama, and I can’t see her,’ one of her daughters said.

SHARE Flossie Lee Bournes, a nurse in the early days of AIDS, dies of COVID-19 in new pandemic at 82
Flossie Lee Bournes at her graduation from Olive-Harvey College, where she studied to be a licensed practical nurse.

Flossie Lee Bournes at her graduation from Olive-Harvey College, where she studied to be a licensed practical nurse.


In the early days of AIDS, Flossie Lee Bournes nursed victims of the disease at a time when it frightened people so badly that some were abandoned by their families and never had visitors in the hospital.

“The Lord knew where I was supposed to be,” she’d say. “Here — taking care of his children.”

Ms. Bournes, who lived on Chicago’s South Side in Pill Hill, died May 3 at Advocate Trinity Hospital of complications from the coronavirus. She was 82.

“For her to get caught up in an epidemic again, it is too ironic,’’ said her daughter Regina Young.

Growing up, young Flossie learned about healing from her mother Oreda, who was skilled at using plants and herbal remedies to help the sick in Columbia, Mississippi.

She was only 6 when her father Matthew died in a car accident. Oreda Bournes moved north to earn money to support her and her sister Bobbie while their grandmother Mattie Stanley raised them in Columbia.

Flossie Lee Bournes.

Flossie Lee Bournes.


Oreda Bournes “did not want to do domestic work,” said Ms. Bournes’ daughter Wanda Young-Ligman. “She said she could do something more. Her interest was in cooking.”

She worked as a cook in a St. Louis hotel before heading to Chicago, where she sent for Flossie and Bobbie to join her.

Their mother passed down her kitchen wizardry.

When Ms. Bournes raised her own children, “There was no going to the McDonald’s,” Young-Ligman said. At dinner, “There had to be a vegetable, a protein and a starch — well-balanced meals.”

And she whipped up heavenly pies and cakes.

“Some of our friends didn’t want to leave our house,” Young-Ligman said, “because of the wonderful food.”

Ms. Bournes graduated from Hyde Park Academy High School and at 19, married Henderson Gibbs Young, a factory worker.

Early on, they raised their six children in Bronzeville in a one-bedroom apartment at 35th Street and Wabash Avenue. Their dining room held two sets of bunk beds, a single bed and the refrigerator. The bathroom contained their washing machine.

“You could look out and see Sox park and hear the fireworks,” Young said.



White cake

2 sticks softened butter

3 eggs

1 ½ cups sugar

3 cups sifted flour

3 tsps. baking powder

2 tsps. vanilla

1 cup whole milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat three 9-inch baking pans with butter, and dust with flour. Sift flour in medium bowl with baking powder, then set aside. In a large mixing bowl, whip softened butter and sugar until fluffy. Blend in one egg at a time; mixture should look fluffy and cloudlike. Add flour mixture and milk in thirds until blended. Batter should remain light and fluffy. Spoon into prepared pans. Tap pans on counter to release air pockets and even out batter. Bake in preheated oven for 20 to 25 minutes. When done, cake should be golden and lightly brown around edges. Check middle with toothpick. If it comes out clean, remove cake from oven and let sit for five minutes. Remove cakes from pans; cool on rack.

Pineapple filling

½ stick butter

20 oz. can crushed pineapple

¾ cup sugar

2 tbsps. cornstarch

2 tsps. vanilla

In a medium saucepan, add butter, drained crushed pineapple, sugar, corn starch and vanilla. Cook over medium heat until sugar and starch dissolve. Turn temperature down to low; mixture should thicken in five to 10 minutes. Remove from heat; let cool five to 10 minutes. Once cooled, spread as filling between the three cake layers.


Betty Crocker Fluffy Whipped Frosting (Ms. Bournes liked this prepared frosting, her family said, because coconut flakes adhered to it well.)

Baker’s Angel Flake coconut flakes

Finish cake by frosting all over, and pat frosting with coconut.

Later, they moved to a four-bedroom home on 76th Place in South Shore. The marriage ended in 1974.

As her children started leaving home, “That’s when she decided to pursue her dream,” Young-Ligman said.

Ms. Bournes had watched nurses tend her daughter Andrea, who was only 4 or 5 when she was struck with meningitis. As she recovered, “My mother lived in that hospital with her for weeks,” Young-Ligman said.

At 42, Ms. Bournes enrolled at Olive-Harvey College to become a licensed practical nurse.

She told her children: “Do not create a life where you have to depend on another person to provide for you. You must have a level of education and independence.”

She got married again, to John Hawthorne, a cab driver and carpet installer. They divorced after she completed nursing school.

For 18 years, she worked in an oncology unit at Bernard A. Mitchell Hospital, where some of her patients were being treated for AIDS.

“She was tasked with making them comfortable,” Young said. “She cared for people at the end.”

“It was very hard,” Young-Ligman said. “They didn’t have anybody visiting them.”

Grateful patients pressed little trinkets on her to show how much she meant to them. One gave her a necklace with a peace symbol. Another crocheted a blanket for one of her grandchildren.

After retiring, Ms. Bournes was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her daughters said she took it in stride, saying: “The Lord doesn’t put anything on you that you can’t handle. What do we learn from this?”

Ms. Bournes volunteered to participate in a clinical trial for the cancer-fighting drug Herceptin, reasoning, “What else do I have better to do? Let me be a part of the study.”

Later in life, she enjoyed trips to the Bahamas, California, Haiti and Key West. With her mother, she’d travel to religious revivals.

She also met singer Tom Jones in concert in the late 1990s. 

“She said Tom Jones had soul,” Young-Ligman said. “She liked the way he danced.”

In addition to her daughters Regina, Wanda and Andrea and her sister Bobbie Jean Taylor, Ms. Bournes is survived by her children Dwayne, Sharon and Matthew; her sister Aleta Riley; stepchildren Sherrelle, Shawn and John Hawthorne Jr.; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. Her family planned a virtual celebration of her life.

Her children aren’t sure how she contracted the coronavirus. But its dangers meant they couldn’t be with her in her final hours.

“That is probably the most difficult piece of COVID,” Young-Ligman said. “That’s my mama, and I can’t see her. It’s traumatizing. We can’t even do the normal goodbye to your loved one. There’s no normalcy to this.”

“I’m so blessed to have had the mother I had,” she said. “She offered so much to others. COVID stole her from us. She wasn’t ready to go.”

Young-Ligman said she keeps listening to her mother’s phone messages.

“My mama became my friend,” she said. “Her voice was very sweet. It was a voice of calm. She’d say, ‘Hey, it’s your mama, just calling to check on you. What are you doing? What are you cooking?’”

“I have to figure out how to save them,” Young-Ligman said. “I don’t want to lose her voice.”

Flossie Lee Bournes.

Flossie Lee Bournes.


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