Lansing guard who died from COVID-19 was fighting to live for daughter’s wedding, wife says

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LANSING, Kan. — A second corrections officer at Lansing Correctional Facility has died of COVID-19.

The man in his 50s, whose name has not been released, worked at the prison for nearly 20 years.

As a result, the Kansas Department of Corrections said starting Thursday all staff members at the prison will be tested for the coronavirus.

George Robaire, better known to friends as Bernie, was the first Lansing guard to die from the virus.

The 61-year-old spent 36 years as a correction officer at Lansing Correctional. The former Marine started working there just months after he married his wife Susan.

“He was always willing to go in. Never grumbled about having to go in at 5 o’clock in the morning. I think he liked some of the interaction with some of the inmates and the other staff,” Susan said.

Robaire, one of the older staff members at the prison, continued to work during the pandemic with a pair of masks produced by inmates.

When Robaire came down with a high fever, he went to the Wyandotte County Health Department for testing and ended up having to go to the hospital on April 28.

Four days later, right before he was placed on a ventilator, Susan had her final conversation with her beloved Bernie about their daughter’s upcoming wedding.

“I told him that he needed to fight because he had a wedding that he needed to be at next year and he said, ‘I know. I want to be there. I want to live,’” Susan said.

“I’m so very sorry that won’t happen,” Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly said in a news conference Wednesday announcing the two deaths on consecutive days this week. “I send my deepest sympathies to his wife and his daughter.”

She was joined by the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Corrections, Jeff Zmuda. He discussed precautions the agency has already taken included limiting visits and reducing prison movement.

“We will continue to review our practices and improve them whenever and wherever possible,” Zmuda said.

Robaire’s widow said she’s not sure what can be done. Already, 750 inmates and 88 staff members have tested positive for the virus.

But she wants her husband not to be remembered for how he died, but how he lived. His two perfect games in bowling, a man with a gruff exterior who excelled in counter cross stitch and just wanted to dance at his daughter’s wedding.

“He was a kind gentle man. Family meant the world to him. He would do anything for his family,” she said.

Four inmates and two staff members at Lansing Correctional are currently hospitalized.

Zmuda said he hopes they’ll be able to get higher quality masks when Kansas Department Emergency Management gets its next shipment.

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