A Retirement Community’s Private and Public Affairs

Our move from the Washington area to a retirement community in Baltimore called Roland Park Place came five ago when, I was 81 and my wife, Pat, was 80. It was concerns about our health and a concerted push from our seven children that propelled us to decide to move. It had become more noticeable that Pat might have Alzheimer’s. For me, Parkinson symptoms, dormant for a decade, had come alive.

At the beginning of our second year at Roland Park Place four falls in two days put Pat in a room in the health care center. I was able to move a second bed into her room and that is where I have slept for the past three years.

While caring for Pat is my main focus, I have become involved in discussion groups concerned with the world’s problems. Last year I became concerned about the morality of our government’s increased reliance on drones. For me it was a “distant mirror.” While I was an assistant to an Atomic Energy Commissioner in the 1950s I became very concerned about the morality of our reliance on nuclear weapons. That concern prompted me to edit a book titled “Morality and Modern Warfare,” published in 1960.

When I decided to ask a few other residents to join me to discuss drones, I looked first to fellow members of a group that holds a peace vigil each week on a busy street in front of our community. By the second discussion, the drones group had doubled in size and by the third it had grown to 20.  At that meeting a consensus emerged that we should discuss other subjects and that we should call ourselves the Public Affairs Roundtable. Nine months later, 60 of the 260 residents of Roland Park Place wanted to be considered roundtable members.

We have discussed immigration, mental health of prisoners, the death penalty, and gun control. At this writing we have had three sessions on what we consider the most important problem facing our planet: climate change.

One minor consequence of Parkinson’s is the effect it has on my voice–its volume and its clarity. When I chair a roundtable, I must use a hand mike. In the near future I will begin intensive voice therapy designed for Parkinson’s patients.

The roundtable has been satisfying. So is a Buddhism study group I started with fellow participants from our yoga and meditation classes.

But the most important and most challenging role I play is that of caregiver to my Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife. Seven months ago the chief physician here told me Pat would not live very long. She said Alzheimer’s often closes down one system after another. Because of the excellent care she receives in the health care center, Pat appears to me to have improved physically. A good friend in a situation similar to mine called his essay about it “The Long Goodbye.”  And so it is.

Bill Nagle, 86, has a PhD  in political philosophy. His career in government included directing policies in the State Department under Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Jimmy Carter. International environment and development work took him to 22 developing countries.  

[For additional discussion of the topics Bill Nagle addresses, see Aging with Purpose, Activism by the Elderly, and “Mommy’s” Long Life with Alzheimer’s Disease.] 

4 Responses to “A Retirement Community’s Private and Public Affairs”

  1. Carol Eblen

    Thank you for your inspiring report of your life that is still filled with purpose. I, as a member of the “greatest generation” am always so proud of other members of this generation who have made such important contributions to our country. Your intelligence, courage, and grace is clearly evident, and you continue to contribute to the “public good” of our beloved country.

  2. Steve Moffic

    What a heartwarming and inspiring blog! In the midst of major medical problems, you have the strength and drive to organize a thriving Roundtable, connecting to a latent well of wisdom. This endeavor reminds me, somewhat wistfully, of the heyday of the Gray Panthers. Maybe we elderly need more activism again, especially now that we have other ways to protest, like on the internet. Maybe we can also have some friendly competition between the “greatest generation” and my “boomers”!?

    I was also heartened to read what your group considered “the most important problem facing our planet” climate change”. Right now, in fact, the poor elderly are one of the highest risk groups in places where adverse climate change is already occurring.

    I, and the Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR), winners of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for nuclear disarmament, agree with you. There may be some progress on the horizon, at least in the USA. The EPA has a proposed new rule to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by 30% from its 2005 levels by 2030. Tomorrow, I fly to a press conference in Pittsburgh to speak in the behalf of the PSR about the mental health gains that reducing global warming can produce. Your group can look for ways to send in comments to the upcoming hearings. If anyone wants a copy of my press points, contact me at rustevie@mac.com.

    Steve Moffic

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