Cheri Hendrix and Evelyn Greenhill wearing their white coats

Nearly 40 years after starting PA courses, Evelyn Greenhill is surprised with an honorary PA white coat.

Photo: Cheri Hendrix (left) and Evelyn Greenhill wearing their white coats.

Nearly 40 years after beginning her physician assistant (PA) courses, University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) security officer Evelyn Greenhill now beams with pride as she shows off her own short white coat. The 70-year-old was shocked to hear her name called during a PA ceremony on April 17 honoring the PA Class of 2025.

The plan began when Greenhill met Cherilyn “Cheri” Hendrix, DHEd, MSBME, PA-C, DFAAPA, assistant dean for physician assistant education at UMB. The PA program’s open skills lab is on the first floor of the Lexington Building, where Greenhill works.

“[Greenhill] confided in me one day that she took all her prerequisite courses to attend PA school many, many years back,” Hendrix says. With just one year left in the program, Greenhill withdrew to take care of her two children. “That tugged at my heart. I could see in her eyes how she is still bothered to this day that she could not finish what she started."

Hendrix says she walked to her office, picked up the phone, and called Tomika Jones, MA, the department’s program administrator and PA student success coach. “I told Tomika I wanted Evelyn to be our ‘honorary’ PA student,” Hendrix says. “Evelyn is such a kind and caring soul, and I thought this honor would only be fitting for her.”

Unbeknownst to Greenhill, the gears were now in motion for an amazing surprise. Meanwhile, Greenhill was enjoying getting to know the PA students she saw throughout the week. She even calls them “her” students.

“I ask them how they’re doing. I ask if there’s anything I can do for them,” Greenhill says. “They ask me to pray for them. They come by more and more and we interact. I love people. I love doing for people.”

Greenhill says she enjoys working behind the scenes. She is devout in her faith and says it grounds her in her work. “God created me to be a servant of him and to be a servant for others. Whatever I do for people, I do from the heart.”

Her care is clear to those who work with her. “Miss Evelyn takes the time to know people,” says Vanessa Harrington, MS, SHRM-CP, executive director of security and compliance for UMB Police and Public Safety. “She recognizes when they’re having a good day or a bad day. She really gets to know them, so she’s not there just to protect them, but also to be a support for them.”

Harrington goes on to say that the interactions are not one-sided. “I think too often during the day we forget that what we’re doing isn’t just about work. It’s about people,” Harrington says. “It’s nice that Cheri reminded us of these human connections.”

With the honorary PA coat in hand, Hendrix requested that Greenhill join her on stage during the ceremony. “I was extremely honored and quite touched,” Hendrix says. “I got to coat Evelyn and we hugged for a long time. The students gave her a standing ovation. They love her as much as we do.”

Greenhill says she was completely shocked and frozen in place when she heard her name. Harrington describes the moment when the security officer was called to the stage.

“I was crying,” she says. “So many of us put dreams on hold for family or children or life in general. We just figure it’s not going to happen. So, to see it come to fruition in spite of the odds, and for it to happen to such a good person, it was so wonderful. I’m so happy for Miss Evelyn.”  

“I couldn’t have made it this far without so many people behind me,” Greenhill says. She thanked Hendrix; Kenneth Wong, PhD, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School; Thomas Leone, MSL, assistant vice president for public safety and chief of police; the PA staff; and UMB Police and Public Safety.

“Everyone deserves our respect,” Hendrix says. “Everyone has hidden talents, skills, and abilities. We just have to pay attention to them and give people a chance to show what they can do. You’re never too old to make your dreams come true.”

Greenhill, who has worked at UMB Police and Public Safety since Jan. 17, 1999, has no plans to slow down. “I’m in good health. I can’t just sit around,” she says. Greenhill adds that she’s now looking into completing her clinicals so she can finish the PA program she started in her 30s. “It’s never too late.”

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