It was a tale of two mothers.
One found herself divorced at 55, getting back up after being knocked down, trying to find a job, to continue to raise her four children. The other was diagnosed with cancer, unable to work, with two daughters, no money and no place to live.
The two met and, though coming from vastly different worlds, helped each other move forward in their lives.
That's the gist of a three-minute speech that Gerre Schwert, of Signal Mountain, gave last week at the annual convention for American Mothers Inc., a national advocacy group.
Apparently her words made an impact because, at a banquet later that weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., she was chosen as the group's national Mother of the Year, an award given out every year since 1935.
"I was very, very surprised," said the 72-year-old, a licensed clinical social worker who deals with cancer patients and their families through Memorial Hospital. "I only knew that I was representing Tennessee at the convention. They'd asked all [nominees] to come."
It's the second year in a row that American Mothers has found a national award winner in the Chattanooga area. In 2013, the group chose Tara Trobaugh of Ringgold, Ga., as Young Mother of the Year.
Schwert, who has two boys and two girls of her own plus two stepsons, was up against nominees from 25 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico (not every state had a nominee).
Her speech was based on true stories, she says; she was the 55-year-old divorcee and the other mother was a former patient.
"In a very real sense, we are connected as mothers, as women in a collaborative relationship from which we will both benefit," Schwert says.
"It's not a hierarchical world with the helped and helpers, the servers and the served, it's very much a collaborative world in which we work together with each other to make a difference."
Schwert moved to Signal Mountain from Texas two years ago with her husband, Doug. They lived in Sewanee, Tenn., from 2002 until 2009 and decided that, when it came time to retire, they would return to the Chattanooga area. Her husband retired; she's still working.
She was nominated for the award by Becky Armstrong, whose parents were best friends with Schwert since they were all students at high school in Bartlesville, Okla. The two families were basically blended while the kids were growing up, says Armstrong, who has two sisters, but considers Schwert's daughter, Ree, as her third.
She remembers Schwert as the mother who would "drop everything" if one of the children needed something.
"When I raised my kids, I always thought of her," says Armstrong, 45, who lives in Bartlesville and has two sons in college. "I always remember she would send a birthday card to everybody; she would go out of her way to be considerate like that. I didn't realize until I grew up and looked back: She was a busy mother of four, but she always took time for everybody."
Schwert -- whose first name is pronounced "Jerry" -- said she was especially shocked to win the national award because she had spent the conference going to seminars, listening to speakers and meeting "fascinating people," including former Mother of the Year winners who'd started organizations with worldwide reach on such subjects as human trafficking. In other words, she says, people doing BIG things.
Now it's her turn.
"All of us who were there from the various states are pretty much committed to this organization to work to improve the status of women, not only where we live, but globally," she said.
Although she hasn't started any projects at this point, "we have plans to start some initiatives as well as spreading the word of this organization and asking people to become involved."
Contact staff writer Shawn Ryan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6327.