03/20/06 — O'Berry worker retiring, again; this time at 85

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O'Berry worker retiring, again; this time at 85

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 20, 2006 1:45 PM

Sophia Grady started working at O'Berry Center in 1961 as a cottage parent, retiring in 1986. Through a program established by the state allowing retirees to return, she came back in 1987 and has worked steadily ever since.

Now, she says she is ready to make her retirement official, probably in April.

"It's not that I'm raring to go; I think it's time to go," she said.

Perhaps. She is, after all, 85 years old.

Minnie Thompson and Sophia Grady

News-Argus/Phyllis Moore

Minnie Thompson, left, health care supervisor at O'Berry Center poses with Sophia Grady, a retiree who returned to work at the center several years ago and at 85, plans to officially retire this spring.

"Every month, she's leaving," joked Minnie Thompson, a health care supervisor who worked closely with Mrs. Grady for eight years and remains a friend.

"Whenever she's working, Ma Grady never sits down, unless she's feeding someone. She's always got them laughing," Ms. Thompson said.

Ma Grady, as she's affectionately called, has clearly enjoyed her work. Ms. Thompson said she has watched many a resident light up when the senior citizen enters the room.

"She encourages people on a daily basis, uplifting their spirits. She might go over to them and they just laugh," Ms. Thompson said.

Mrs. Grady shrugs off the accolades. She was just doing her job, she says, which included feeding, bathing, preparing the residents for bed, "things a mom would do."

She was 45 years old when she first entered the workforce. She had raised a son of her own and moved back to Kinston to care for the grandmother who reared her. It was then that she learned about a job at O'Berry after meeting someone who worked there.

"We carpooled, stayed at the staff house until we had leave days," she said.

She liked her job, she said, but chose to retire on May 1, 1986, with 25 years and two months of service as a health care technician.

"I don't really know why, but the Lord let me know that I needed to go out for some other reason," she said.

At the time, her father had undergone surgery and battled lung cancer. He died that November.

At the time of her retirement, there was no retiree program, said Dr. Beverly Buscemi, director of residential services.

"This was a special program that had to go through all kinds of things before being approved by the state," she said.

Launched in June 1987, the specialized program provided a means for people to continue working and supplementing their income.

"Think about the wealth of knowledge and experience you have as a retiree. Very often, they would go back to the same place they worked before, so there was also that consistency," she said.

Initially a pilot program at O'Berry only for direct care staff, it has since been replicated at other state institutions, Dr. Buscemi said.

Today there are 68 retirees working at O'Berry, which translates to about 6 percent of the center's workforce, she said.

"With their combined years of experience, the average retiree working has 26 years of experience," she said.

The employment is set up primarily as a part-time situation, but the majority also fill in where needed and often end up working up to 40 hours a week.

As soon as the program was announced, six months after she had retired, Mrs. Grady was one of the first to sign on.

"I just didn't want to stay home," she said, explaining that her husband had died in 1981 and she "wanted to be doing something. I hadn't been working very much while I was taking care of my mother."

Returning to the familiar environment she had recently left, she said, "felt like I'd been on vacation. I guess because I didn't have to go to a different area to work."

She said she feels good about the career she has had.

"I'm so grateful that the Lord allowed me the opportunity to do it," she said. "I have been through quite a bit of sickness and what have you and here I am today. I just consider it a great blessing. I really have enjoyed working at O'Berry."

Retiring in the spring will be good timing, she said.

"I just don't want to be on the highway. Plus my son and his family keep asking me to come visit," she said. She also has four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Grady said she has always been active, even when she stayed at home.

"I go shopping. I try not to give up and I don't give up easily," she said. "But I sure will miss working."

"Now you can come back as a Foster Grandparent," Dr. Buscemi told her.

"I'm hoping I will be able to come back and visit," Mrs. Grady said. "I do it from the heart. We have to put something in to get something out."