WINDHAM — After 34 years as site coordinator for the Meals on Wheels program based in Windham, Virginia Billings has retired – at least from her current role.
Billings, 78, started in her job after finding about the opening from a fellow member of her snowmobile club. And for over three decades, she has worked to get nutritious meals to local seniors who need them in Windham, Raymond, Gray, New Gloucester, Naples and parts of Gorham.
Her coworkers from Southern Maine Agency on Aging, which runs the Meals on Wheels program, had a party for her on her last day, May 11, at Unity Gardens senior apartments where the program is based.
Billings, who lives in Windham with her husband, says she isn’t ready to retire fully, and plans to look for another part-time job or volunteer work.
Q: Has there been something particular about the job that has kept you here so long?
A: The people … I just took to older people – to their wisdom, their knowledge. I’ve always told the seniors that I lost my parents when I was fairly young, I was in my thirties. And they never were substitute parents, but they taught me how to become a senior. They’ve had a lot of wisdom.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever really retire?
A: I don’t want to really retire, no. I like being around people.
I guess I decided it was time to go, and just to look for something else … There’s a lot of things out there, and I just want to see, maybe, what else I can do besides what I’ve been doing for 34 years. You can’t dedicate your whole life to one thing, I believe. I hopefully want to continue in some other role.
Q: It must be nice to be recognized after 34 years?
A: To be recognized by the people that I’ve helped. By little things that they say or do, in ways that they say, ‘You’ve helped me, you’ve listened.’ That’s what makes this job worth doing.
Q: Are there any people that stand out?
A: One thing that we haven’t mentioned, and we should mention, are the volunteers … If it wasn’t for the volunteers, this job that I have couldn’t be done. We have four different routes that we deliver to. Also we deliver up in Naples, so it’s actually five … And it’s volunteers – the dedication of the volunteers.
The volunteers that help put up the meals here. The volunteers for 44 cents a mile who will drive, and they might go to a home and the person might not be there. They might go to a home and it’s a snowstorm, it has snowed, and it’s not shoveled. And not all of them, but a lot of them, will pick up a shovel that can and shovel people out. Those are the people that stand out to me, the volunteers.
Q: You’ve been doing this since you were 44. What did you do before that?
A: Well, besides being a wife and mother, I’ve been a floral designer. I have worked for United Auto in accounts receivable. I have worked as a sort of a caregiver of a home for an elderly couple. When I was real young I did waitressing and decided I would never do that again (laughter) … A lot of my life has been a wife and mother. That takes priority … I have a little great-granddaughter, our first girl, and she is a real darling. She is the sweetest little girl. I’m just one of these women that believes a woman takes care of her home, she takes care of her family, and that’s what we were supposed to do. And everything else is a bonus.
Q: And you feel good about the state that you’re leaving the operation?
A: Oh definitely, yes. She (new site coordinator Andi Winslow) is very good. And it’s time – after 30 some-odd years, it’s time for a new person to have new ideas. New ideas are always good.
Q: Is there anything else we haven’t covered?
A: If I was to give advice to a young person, I would just tell them to find something that they really enjoy and like doing, and then give it their whole heart. No matter if they run into difficulties with the job, or if it seems a little hard, just keep on going. That’s what I would say to the young people.
Virginia Billings has retired after 34 years as the site manager for Meals on Wheels in Windham.