Paul’s Pride Stems from Cherished Photographs
June 24, 2024Jim Oswald

The popularity of digital devices and platforms to document our family moments, great trips and adventures, or funny and silly memories of our pet’s antics has transformed the way I remember milestones in my life. That said, I still enjoy pouring over physical photo albums and scrapbooks chocked full of photos with curled, discolored edges, handwritten letters, and greeting cards that tell stories of my past.

I was reminded of the power of photo albums after meeting Meals on Wheels recipient, Paul, in San Francisco. As he welcomed me into his modest apartment with a view of Ocean Beach and its crashing waves, I marveled at the view (of course) but also of the stacks of photo albums and loose photos on his dining room table. We sat on his couch and within seconds, Paul excitedly began telling me his story.

He is originally from Jackson, Tennessee and as a young child, it was his dream to make a record. As a teen he sang at his local church, and in a gospel quartet. As a young adult, he joined the Navy and received an opportunity to sing in a jazz club in the Philippines where he was stationed.

I could see Paul light up as he opened up one photo album after another. He pulled out a picture of him shaking President Gerald Ford’s hand at a function in San Francisco. He handed me another photo – this one of him in a Navy uniform posing with the legendary singer, Ella Fitzgerald. He then showed me a collection of holiday cards from her and her family to him. Not a year was missed that Paul and the Fitzgerald’s didn’t exchange a holiday greeting card. Even when the singer passed away in 1996, the family continued the tradition, sending Paul cards with small handwritten notes wishing him health and happiness.

As Paul gathered loose photos and cards on his table to show me, I could tell he was transformed back in time as he re-told the stories of the famous people behind each image. The list of celebrities he’s met is impressive: Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind), Charo, Pia Zadora, Carol Channing, Mary Wilson, Richard Chamberlain, Pedro Pascal, Julie Andrews, and Robin Williams, just to name a few!

“Here is a picture of me with Robin near his home in Seacliff,” Paul showed me. “I ran into him one day when he was getting out of his SUV. I approached him and asked to take a picture with him. That made my day.”

In 1996, Paul even made a cameo appearance on the Beach Blanket Babylon stage after having met Eddie Fisher. Here he is sitting on the ground in this group shot of the cast, above.

I asked Paul if he was an entertainer by trade, and he laughed and said no. He explained that after his time in the military, he moved to San Francisco and became a florist. The job paid the bills, but also afforded him time to perfect his passion for singing and to meet many interesting people along the way.

We took a break from looking at the first stack of photos. Looking out his sliding glass door, Paul pointed to a building across the way and told me that is where his partner of 32 years lived before he passed away.

“He used to get Meals on Wheels which is how I learned about the services,” Paul explained. He said their relationship was mutually beneficial as they helped each other out with life’s daily needs. I can tell that he misses him.

Paul began receiving Meals on Wheels in 2021 after a he went through a near coma experience where his blood sugar spiked dangerously high.

“I passed out and hit my head on the concrete steps, by the driveway,” Paul recounted. “A man was there and called 911.”

Paul said that Meals on Wheels helps him manage his diabetes as the meals are already prepared which helps him eat on a regular schedule.

“Meals on Wheels keeps me from having to cook,” he said. “I always have something to eat and they’re very nice.”

In 2010, his dream of making a recording became reality. His CD, Paul Bridger, Blame It On My Youth, was recorded in 2010 and features classic tunes including his version of  I Left My Heart in San Francisco.

Click to listen to Paul perform When I Fall in Love.

He still has a passion for the flower shop, too! At 85 years young, Paul hops on a bus in San Francisco for a 6-mile ride to work one day a week at the florist shop located in Colma.

As I wrapped up my visit with Paul, a large crow landed on the balcony railing outside his window. Paul was delighted.

“I’ve never seen such a large bird sit there before,” he said. “Quick, can you take a picture for me?”

He handed me his phone and I snapped a few photos of him posing while the crow balanced on the rail, its feathers blowing in the ocean breeze. The crow looked in at us as we looked out to him. Another moment captured in a photo for Paul to remember.

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