Schaefer advises elderly at forum about getting older Former governor shares anecdotes with audience

November 15, 1996|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

Basking in the glow of yet another birthday cake yesterday, William Donald Schaefer, who turned 75 Nov. 2, regaled seniors and geriatric professionals with anecdotes and advice on growing older.

As keynote speaker at the second Baltimore County Seniors Solutions forum, the former governor, Baltimore mayor and Baltimore City Council member and was amusing -- and poignant -- as he shared his physical woes and retirement tales.

"My transition was bumpy. Everything was different," he told the 160 participants attending the seminar sponsored by the Baltimore County Department of Aging, county Commission on Aging and Sheppard Pratt Health System. "I tried to do too many things."

In a black suit, white shirt and signature pumpkin tie, a self-deprecating Schaefer rattled off a list of unsuccessful stints in radio, television and journalism since leaving public office 22 months ago after two terms as governor. Even attempts at fund raising didn't work out, he said.

And, to a man used to results, it was unnerving to solicit money jTC and have someone say, "Tell him I'm out," he said.

Even everyday events were overwhelming, such as driving on Interstate 95. "The first time, I drove on 95, I stayed at 55. You stay 55, and you're going to be hit. Then I drove 65, then 70, then 80. Then I gave up."

His comments drew appreciative laughter from the crowd.

"I thought he was fantastic. He's so honest," said Shirley Davis, a dietitian. "I feel honored that he came here."

Schaefer accepted no fee for the appearance at the Conference Center at Sheppard Pratt, which also featured workshops on issues related to aging, said Arnold J. Eppel, deputy director of the county Department of Aging.

To show respect to a man who spent 40 years as an elected official, the group sang, "Happy Birthday," as a beaming Schaefer prepared to blow out flaming candles on a chocolate sheet cake.

Wearing wire-rimmed glasses, the elder statesman admitted, "It's difficult to be old. I have pains. I can't hear as well."

And in his usual stream-of-consciousness, Schaefer recalled, "I used to torment my father, who was going deaf, by talking very low," he said in a hushed voice. "Now they do it to me."

But perhaps most touching was his reference to longtime companion Hilda Mae Snoops, whom he visits nearly every day at a North Baltimore nursing home.

"Hilda Mae is the only family I have," the lifelong bachelor said. "I see so much I missed -- I don't regret it -- but I missed it.

"This time of year can be the saddest time for a single person."

Pub Date: 11/15/96

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