Gary’s eyes gleam with joy as he tells of one of his favorite celebrity encounters. He says he ran into world-famous tennis legend Jimmy Connors at an event some 40 years ago. Back in the day, Gary was an avid tennis player, so confidently, he asked the tennis pro if he’d play him, to which Connors agreed. Gary’s eyes really light up when he tells me that he was winning 2-1 when Connors’ partner arrived and they had to leave. While they didn’t get to play a whole set together, the experience left a fond, lasting memory for Gary.
Today, Gary is 70 years old. He was born in the U.S. but grew up in London. His British accent is rich as he speaks about his life and his love of San Francisco which he refers to as “surprisingly European.”
He’s lived in a small apartment on the third floor of a building in the Marina district for the past 20 years. An advertising and marketing man by trade, Gary suffered his first heart attack when he was 48 years old. Eventually, his health would not allow him to continue the rigors of an in-house job, so he became a contractor and no longer had paid health insurance. As a result, his mounting health and dental issues “took a backseat,” as he could not afford the proper care he needed. In 2006, he had to stop working altogether due to his heart condition.
Every Penny Counts
“What I think is vital for people to know is that people in my situation or worse have health limitations,” Gary explains. “They have an inability to work or generate an income beyond social security – every penny counts. It’s sad that those people with health problems (like mine) have to worry more about money than about things that are right for them and that are necessary, such as meals, healthcare, etc.”
During the next 10 years, Gary got by, but his heart health issues and dental care problems persisted. In 2016, he underwent a triple bypass that left him in the hospital for five weeks. His sister flew over from England to be by his side. By then, while he was already on Medicare, she knew he would need much more to be able to live independently, particularly in San Francisco, so she got him enrolled in Medi-Cal to start.
When he got out of the hospital and returned to his apartment, he discovered it was extremely difficult to stand and cook for a long time. Even raising and holding his arm to shave was painful.
His sister did one other thing for him before she returned to England. She got him connected to Meals on Wheels.
“One of the great things about Meals on Wheels is that the food comes in containers that I can pop in the microwave,” says Gary. “No dishes to wash. Even a small thing like that is meaningful to me.”
Peace of Mind
Gary now receives seven days’ worth of meals and sidebag items such as fruits, yogurts, and other items, each week. He says this helps him eat healthier and paired with the services, such as the check-ins and nutrition counseling, all provide him with peace of mind. He says his heart health makes it hard to exercise, and hard to walk his dog, Leo, whom he has had since 2017. But, if it weren’t for Leo, he wouldn’t get any exercise at all, and Gary very much enjoys the independence he has in getting out and walking Leo around some of his favorite dog parks in the City.
“The most consistent thing I have is food through Meals on Wheels. That frees me from worry. It allows me to think about things I want to do like walking Leo.”
As we finish our conversation, Gary shares another celebrity encounter – this one in the 90s. He was at a restaurant in North Beach when he was introduced to a beautiful blonde-haired lady. The two struck up a lively conversation before she met up with another gentleman she had been waiting for. Gary had no idea who she was until a friend he was with told him he had been chatting with the actress, Sharon Stone. And the man Ms. Stone was meeting at the restaurant? Gary says it was non-other than Phil Bronstein who, years later, would marry the well-known actress.