The love story of Robert and Germaine Lahiff Hines

“My life has been turned upside down,” begins the June 2006 letter from Robert S. Hines. “Germaine passed away on May 14, Mother’s Day.” Following Mass at St. Augustine’s by the Sea in Waikiki, Germaine was laid to rest at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. “It was a gorgeous day. Our niche is near three plumeria trees that are in bloom. Germaine would have liked that.”

Germaine Lahiff Hines, nearly 99 when she passed, led a fascinating life. “I had many wonderful years with her and it will be difficult for me to carry on without her. No matter how long, it is never long enough when you have the love that we shared,” Bob wrote.

Bob, who retired as the dean of the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Hawaii Manoa, passed away in April 2014. Together, he and Germaine shared a love of music, particularly of opera, education and carried a strong belief in the importance of giving back. 

Their legacy continues at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center through an endowment they established through their trust. This $1.9 million Robert S. and Germaine Lahiff Hines Endowment establishes the Hines Scholars to support nursing education at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. It is one of the largest donations in the medical center's history. 

We are grateful that the Hines endowment will help preserve that legacy and provide opportunities for our own nurses to continue to deliver care beyond medicine. — David F. Perse, MD, President and CEO, St. Vincent Charity Medical Center

The endowment will be used to support nursing education, including tuition reimbursement, the development of nurse educators, and specialized training for critical, emergency, surgical and behavioral health care at St. Vincent Charity.

“This amazing gift by Germaine and Robert Hines was given because of their love and appreciation for the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine and the incredible education Mrs. Hines received decades ago,” said Dr. David Perse, President & CEO of St. Vincent Charity. “The Sisters taught not just the skills and discipline of nursing, but the importance of providing dignity to every patient.  We are grateful that the Hines endowment will help preserve that legacy and provide opportunities for our own nurses to continue to deliver care beyond medicine.”

Over the course of their long lives, Germaine and Bob served many as educators and caregivers. Born on Long Island, NY, but raised in Amherst, Ohio, Germaine was a 1928 graduate of St. Vincent Charity’s School of Nursing. “The training (by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine) fit perfectly with her character—she was hardworking, competent and principled,” said Richard Dubanoski, dean of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Hawaii, who also gave the eulogy at Germaine’s funeral.

Described as strong yet gentle, no-nonsense but sensible and an unexpected rascal, she was a model for a life well-lived. “Whenever I got out of line, Germaine would look at me and say, ‘Now, Dick, remember I was a nurse. I know how to use a scalpel.’”

The training (by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine) fit perfectly with her character—she was hardworking, competent and principled. — Richard Dubanoski, dean of the College of Social Sciences, University of Hawaii

Nursing was her vocation and she did not shy away from difficult assignments. After graduation from the St. Vincent Charity School of Nursing, Germaine quickly took on the much-needed and perilous work as the head nurse at the County Tuberculosis Sanatorium. Despite the high level of infection among tuberculosis nurses at the time, Germaine never wavered in her excellent and compassionate manner. “On many occasions people would stop her on the street and thank her for her many kindnesses she had shown them when they were in the hospital,” said Dubanoski.

As a First Lieutenant in the Army Corps of Nurses during World War II, Germaine Lahiff saw her share of the horrors of war. Working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week while being strafed by German aircraft at an Army Field Hospital in France, she also helped to save thousands of lives. She was tough—and gutsy—as evidenced by an incident during the war.

“One night she was sitting on a latrine and when she heard a noise at the flap of the tent, she shined her flashlight and it was a German soldier. Without hesitation she shouted in English, ‘Get out of here!’ The soldier left immediately,” recalled Dubanoksi.

In June 1944, in the weeks following the Allied invasion of Normandy, the 8th Field Hospital personnel arrived at Utah Beach and eventually settled three miles from the front on territory only captured by the Allies two days earlier. They were surrounded by the debris of war and German shellfire that necessitated a quick move into foxholes.

Germaine was among the first to administer a new drug called penicillin. The United States had developed a method for mass production in 1941. In the field hospitals and Army hospitals penicillin was used in great quantities to treat infections suffered by wounded and ill soldiers.

At its height in 1944, Germaine’s 8th Field Hospital handled more than 1,000 patients a day, mostly incoming casualties from the First and Third U.S. Armies.

For her war efforts, she received a Commendation Ribbon for noteworthy service, the American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and a letter from President Harry S. Truman.  

During the war years, Germaine was known to pen letters to her hometown newspaper, The Amherst News-Times, still publishing today. In 1942, she shared news as the only “lady cruise passenger” on the Acadia, which sailed from New York Harbor to the West Indies. 

“Should Miss Germaine Lahiff ever decide, for any reason at all, to put an end to those delightful vacation jaunts she is in the habit of taking each year during the last days of autumn, this column would be miserably bereft of the source of some of its most colorful material,” the columnist wrote on January 30, 1942. 

“Dusk in the tropics is a strange and beautiful thing, Germaine told me … It is during this interlude that the blues of the ocean become a glory in the eyes of those who are there to see … Once you have seen, you will forever know that they who tell of the beauties of a tropical night on the ocean, speak the truth.”

An intrepid reporter, Germaine told of the woman who managed a hotel in St. Lucia, who was also a nurse. She was managing while the two hotel owners were away at war. “She didn’t know that she’d ever see either again. Meanwhile, she was ‘carrying on’ for them.”

Two days after Christmas 1945, The Amherst News-Times published on the front page, above the fold, a letter in Germaine’s words about her Thanksgiving holiday to London following the war. “The cliffs of Dover … were a great thrill for me as I had heard so much about them,” she wrote. Her report noted the damage London endured through the war, but also that rebuilding was already taking place. “They are putting up projects for the poor very much like those in Cleveland,” she wrote.

She was also a canny observer of other cultures. “I had been told that the British were cold and did not make up to strangers very much. Well, I found them just the opposite—they were friendly and certainly went out of their way to help me any time I asked them about anything.” 

Following her return to the hospital at Biarritz, France, Lt. Lahiff, gave a tea for the WACS stationed at the hospital, which was attended by General McCroskey and Col. Russell. “When I announced to the girls that the commanding general was coming over they all got into a dither and I must confess I secretly was a little nervous myself as I had never presented a group to a general in my life, but he soon put everyone at ease….”

After the war, she returned to Cleveland and completed her bachelor’s in nursing at Case Western Reserve University at a time when very few nurses held a BSN. She followed with a degree in guidance counseling from Columbia University. 

It was in New York City in 1949, when Germaine met a music student who had learned to play the saxophone, piano and clarinet and organized several bands in school and the Navy during World War II, where he was a SeaBee. Robert S. Hines (Bob) grew up in Kingston, NY. After the war he auditioned and was accepted into The Juilliard School. It was during that time that he met and instantly fell in love with Germaine Lahiff. They married in 1950.

“Anyone who knew them, knew them as the ideal, perfect couple—Gracie Allen and George Burns, Harriet and Ozzie Nelson. Never have I seen such a devoted, loving relationship,” Dubanoski said.

(Germaine) was an indispensable co-editor, ever-ready correspondent, typist and gracious hostess.

Bob accepted a position as director of choral activities for the General Motors Corp. in 1952, which gave him the opportunity to complete his master’s in music at the University of Michigan. Industrial choruses were started in the 1930s as employee activities. GM’s boasted about 130 singers during Bob’s leadership. While the companies eliminated them in the late 1970s, Bob’s group remains today as the Motor City Chorale, a community chorus. Germaine continued her work with TB patients at Detroit’s Kiefer Hospital. 

But by the time she was 50, Germaine decided to give up nursing to support Bob’s work. He was a prolific scholar with a stellar reputation and Germaine took up the role of partner. She was an indispensable co-editor, ever-ready correspondent, typist and gracious hostess.

In 1972, Bob was offered a teaching position at the University of Hawaii. When he asked Germaine if she’d like to live in Hawaii she replied, “Give me 20 minutes to pack.” His stature in music education brought many offers to leave Hawaii over the course of the next 34 years. “Whenever Bob came home and mentioned a new offer, Germaine prayed to the Virgin Mary that they would not move,” said Dubanoski. It worked.

By his own admission, Bob was first and foremost an educator. He loved being in the classroom. He recognized that to succeed in the field of choral music, it was absolutely necessary to be there when students rehearsed and performed, according to his niece Judith.

Today, that commitment to education reaches back across the country, to the place where his beloved Germaine began her education and an incredible legacy of nursing.