Loving, Selfless, Smart, and Strong

“Gert is the quintessential Jewish mother,” recounts her daughter-in-law, Shelley Pinkney, who has known her for almost forty years. “She’s always ready to offer a shoulder to cry on or chicken soup when you’re sick.”

Her mother-in-law, now 91, has been an inspiration to her, a model for how to live life with dignity and grace. “Gert never stops learning and meeting new people,” Shelley continues, “because she knows that’s what keeps you alive, that’s what gives you a reason to get up in the morning.”

Three years ago, Gertrude Pinkney left her apartment and moved to Fox Run, a large retirement community outside of Detroit. Here she reaches out to friends and strangers alike, attends frequent classes, and rigorously exercises. To say her life is full is an understatement.

“When I came here to Fox Run I found so many people who could be my friends,” Gert comments. Once shy but no longer, she introduces herself amiably to people with whom she exercises in the pool or others she passes in the hallways. At mealtimes she picks different people to sit with each day for the sake of variety.

Always interested in others, she developed a “Know Your Neighbor” column for the community newspaper, Fox Run Village News. Already she has a reputation. “Don’t say anything,” she has heard one resident whisper to another. “She’s a reporter!”

Gert’s philosophy is to make each day count. The number of activities in which she is involved is astonishing. She joins in on the “Shalom Group” with others who are Jewish, continues attending an Adult Learning Institute at Oakland Community College, where she’s taken classes for fifteen years, and at Fox Run is on the committee that organizes Your Own University classes.

Exercise is paramount. She water-walks four times a week, goes to exercise class, dabbles with yoga, and tones with weights, even able to dispense with her diabetes medicine because of her weight control.

Among the pursuits that keep her busy is her love of reading. Her running joke is that it takes five minutes to read the local Detroit Free Press, then hours to pour over the New York Times. When she is done reading the papers, she shares them with others in her community.

Though Gert confides she has lots wrong with her, her mantra is “nothing can stop me!” If she’s invited somewhere, she goes. This momentum includes past travels with Elderhostel programs, two visits to Israel, a vacation in Spain, and a trip to Cuba. “I think I’ve done it all,” she muses.

For the past 27 years she has regularly visited her son, Henry, and Shelley on Tuesdays, staying overnight at their house for a relaxed time with the grandsons and returning home the next day. Her other son, Fred, comes to see her several times a year from outside Washington, D.C., and in the past she has traveled there to visit him and his family.

Gert says she never thinks about her age. “Whatever happens, happens” is her credo as she acts spontaneously and with a touch of chutzpah. Yet over twenty years ago she and her husband, Irving, made a determined plan to buy cemetery plots next to each other – “so we could still talk to each other” – and in her eighties Gert wrote down in minute detail her end of life directives.

But she’s still interested in a lot of things, not the least of which are her two sons and their families. She is proud of her capable and affable boys, Henry, a dentist, and Fred, a marine biologist (“his specialty is deformed fish and frogs,” Gert adds). Over a dozen years ago, Gert wrote a letter to her sons in which she expressed her abiding love: “Having you two was one of the greatest joys of my life,” she penned. “I always cherished the times with you.”

Gert and her grandsons, Michael and David in Michigan and Gabriel and Gregory in Maryland, also engage in a mutual admiration. “I couldn’t have asked for a better Grandma,” grandson Mike once wrote to Gert in a letter that speaks of her encouragement and devotion. David describes her as a “loving, selfless, smart, strong person” who always canceled everything to come and take care of him when she was needed.

Sharing and caring are essential to the impact Gert has on others. “She gets great pleasure in bringing people together,” Shelley observes. “She finds networks and takes great pleasure in pulling you along.”

“I’ve always had a full life,” Gert sums it up. “I’m glad I moved here to Fox Run. Now my life is even fuller, with more choices. I’m never depressed – I don’t have time!”

Gertrude Pinkney