A few reflections on my 40 years of serving older adults

George Brown
Last week the citizens of Clermont County passed the Senior Services Levy by an unprecedented 75 percent affirmative vote. I speak for the board of trustees, our employees, and most importantly the older adults we serve, in expressing our gratitude for your vote of confidence to continue this vital work for another five years.

This extraordinary vote of support is also personally gratifying, as I plan to retire at the end of 2011. This will conclude a 40-year career of serving older adults, with the good fortune of spending half of those years as the CEO of Clermont Senior Services. Without meaning to sound maudlin, I cannot help but pause to reflect on a few of the experiences I’ve had along the way.

I met Evelina Conway in the early 1970s, when I was hired as a street social worker in Over-the Rhine. My job title was Community Organizer, but I didn’t organize anything. My job was to help older adults with their housing and social service needs, but what I remember most is how much being a part of their lives enriched my own.

Evelina lived on the third floor of a walk-up tenement. After a long life of hard work, at age 78 a serious heart condition required that she pause to rest at each landing as she ascended the stairs to her immaculate apartment, but she never complained. Evelina became a good friend and always wanted to give me something to eat, like her delicious sweet potato pie.

Other memorable characters from my Over-the-Rhine days included Jay, Marvin, Lucille, Frank, and a homeless lady named Mrs. Biley. Mrs. B wasn’t really homeless, but the entire contents of her little apartment consisted of a rollaway bed and about 100 bags of stuff she had collected on the street. As a 25-year-old social worker, these older adults were more like a collection of elderly aunts or uncles than clients about whom I was supposed to keep case notes. And in those days Yvonne and I thought nothing of bringing one of them home with us for the weekend; something that would never be permitted today. Frank, in his late 80s, stooped over and nearly deaf, was our favorite.

It wasn’t long before I found myself wanting to be involved in the planning and management of services for older adults. This urge lead me to the Gerontological Studies graduate program at Miami University, and then on to a series of associate and CEO positions at several Council on Aging offices before finding my way to Clermont Senior Services in 1991.

Moving from the street to a leadership role in the office meant no longer having day-to-day contact with those mostly nice older folks who needed services, but the tradeoff was the opportunity to forge strong relationships with the behind-the-scenes office team and with others in the community. Through these friendships and our shared efforts we have accomplished some great things to improve the lives of older adults. The senior housing facilities developed by Clermont Senior Services over the past 15 years are a great example.

Perhaps the most significant experience that has occurred during my 40-year career is that that 25-year-old social worker became an older person himself. I’m okay with that. I recently read that retirement is about getting to live your life dreams. I’ve had the good fortune of living one of my life dreams through my work for the past 40 years. It has been richly rewarding. I will miss the day-to-day contact with my coworkers and others in the community, and working on projects with them, but I’m a firm believer in the importance of passing the baton while you are still running at full stride.

And, alas, those retirement dreams are beckoning, and I look forward to discovering where they will lead. One of those dreams is continuing to write this column, which will likely include more “backpack adventures” and an occasional column titled “Where in the world is George this week?”

George Brown is the executive director of Clermont Senior Services.