The Rev. Georgiette Morgan-Thomas has reached hero status in Philadelphia’s manufacturing and fashion-design communities for buying and reopening a shuttered hat factory in Wissinoming in December 2015, one of the last in the country.
But it was two highly personal battles the rescuer of the former S&S Hat Co., now renamed American Hats LLC, has waged that especially wowed Liz Kerr, a nurse at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia: At 70, Morgan-Thomas has kicked cancer’s butt twice — ovarian in 1987 and cervical in 1995.
That and her ownership of a hat business made her a natural go-to, Kerr figured, for this year’s Cancer Survivors Day at Einstein, themed “Hats Off to Survivors."
“I think she’s one of — if not the — most impressive women I’ve ever encountered,” said Kerr, who is also an oncology care coordinator at Einstein and cochair of the Survivors Day event, sponsored by the family of Iris Lee Schwartz, an Elkins Park resident who lost her battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1993.
Motivated by a news report on Morgan-Thomas’ purchase of the hat factory, Kerr sent an email asking if she would be able to donate a hat to be raffled off and given to one of the 75 cancer patients attending the Survivors Day dinner held Friday at Einstein’s Gouley Auditorium.
“I really didn’t expect to hear back,” said Kerr, cochair of the event. “The next day I get a call and it was Rev. Georgiette. She was calling me from the train [she takes Amtrak from Harlem to Philadelphia several days a week]. ... She wanted to not only send a hat, but she wanted to design a special hat for this event.”
Morgan-Thomas, who has been wearing hats since she was a young girl living in Mobile, Ala., did more than donate one to the Einstein celebration. She delivered four. The retired social worker designed them in shades of pink and green, the colors of Alpha Kappa Alpha, for whose members she makes hats. (Morgan-Thomas is a Delta Sigma Theta woman.)
"I kept thinking a pink rose is always something you look forward to and green brings the spring and new life and hope,” Morgan-Thomas said in a recent interview.
For American Hats itself, an expected life-changer is just months away — the Sept. 19 opening of the company’s first full-fledged retail outlet, in Fashion District of Philadelphia, the former Gallery mall on East Market Street in Center City that is undergoing a major renovation.
Morgan-Thomas is working on a design for the hat she will wear that day.
“Because we’re doing a new thing,” she said, “I’m looking for a new shape.”