Let Gorgeous Granny take you for a spin
Laughter and fun come naturally to this young senior
Growing old isn't for sissies. Just ask Barbara Proctor, 77, a Pleasanton resident who flies to Florida every few months to visit her 100-year-old mother.
Proctor retired Dec. 28 after almost 13 years of working at Life Elder Care in Fremont, where she headed up the volunteers for Meals on Wheels for 10-plus years, then ran the volunteer ride program. Sometimes she herself would take an assignment.
"My specialty are the misfits," she said with a laugh. "The first person I make fun of is me. I've reached that stage in life where I can let it roll off my head."
She grew up in Boston and until she married and had her own three children, she was a second- and third-grade teacher.
"I taught them the alphabet," she said. "Now they come ready for their SATs."
In the 1990s, Proctor came to visit her daughter Susie in San Francisco. She ended up swapping homes for 10 months with a doctor friend of Susie's while he took medical courses at Harvard. After the 10 months were up, Proctor decided to say.
"Susie was in real estate and making money so I got my real estate license," Proctor recalled.
She sold homes in a new subdivision until they were gone.
"I loved the people end but despised the paperwork," she said.
Meanwhile she went to see her parents in Florida after her dad had a stroke and became hard of hearing.
"Mom had no patience," Proctor said, but she was able to communicate well with her father. "My mom said I should so something with old people because I was so good with them."
She combined this talent with her real estate experience to work for seven-and-a-half years at Carlton Plaza, an assisted living community in Fremont, helping people choose the best accommodations.
"There was a lady named Evelyn, and I would bring people there and she'd say, 'What do you want to move here for? It's a dreadful place,'" Proctor said, remembering how she enjoyed the job and making people laugh even as they made the momentous decision to move out of their homes.
Then 13 years ago she went to work at Life Elder Care, a nonprofit organization that serves Fremont, Union City and Newark.
"I had to find volunteers for Meals on Wheels and train them for 24 routes, with from eight to 24 stops per route," Proctor said. "I spoke at Lions, Rotary, AARP, to young mothers' groups, I put it into church bulletins."
There is turnover among volunteers, she explained, who leave to take a paying job or have other demands on their time such as a spouse who is ill.
"One hundred and fifty of the drivers I trained are still there," Proctor said with pride.
In her training, she emphasized the importance of the contact with Meals on Wheels clients.
"You may be the only reason they get up and get dressed," she would tell the volunteers. "Put yourself in their shoes and see what the volunteer means to them."
The interaction was also important for many of the volunteers, she noted.
"I had a driver named Ling who said, 'You have no idea how you changed my life,'" Proctor said. "She was depressed, her kids were off to college."
As her retirement from Life Elder Care in December approached, Proctor did some soul-searching for her next step and realized that she would like to continue working with older folks.
"I like seniors. I know what my mother likes," she said. "My greatest joy is to bring a smile or laugh to someone's face."
"I decided to take my strength with seniors and be the 'good daughter,"" she added.
To that end, she launched GG's Caring Companion Service, named for what her eight grandchildren call her -- GG, short for Gorgeous Granny. When grown children want to spend a few hours taking mom or dad shopping or to lunch but need instead to be at the office, they can call Proctor and she'll be happy to do it. She charges $20 per hour, with a minimum of three hours and a $5 travel fee.
"I have GPS, thank God," she said. She is happy to drive as far as the peninsula although she must charge a slightly higher travel fee.
On the assignments she's had so far, her experience has helped, she said, especially with the client who was debating whether to move into assisted living.
"Assisted living is a whole different way of living. I can tell them about it," she said, based on her years working at Carlton Plaza.
She is busy spreading the word about her new venture, going everywhere she can find likely candidates to hand out her business cards.
She starts each weekday with a 3.2-mile walk downtown from her home off Vineyard Avenue, which she bought 14 years ago when she moved permanently to the Bay Area.
"I love the shops downtown," she said, pulling out two distinctively styled purses she'd bought recently.
She also travels to Sarasota every few months to see her mother, who still lives alone in an apartment.
Proctor's granddaughter and grandson designed her GG's Caring Companion Service website. They included her philosophy of life: "Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass -- it's about learning how to dance in the rain."
Call Proctor at 461-2495 or email Bproctor8@sbcglobal.net.