Today we wanted to lift your spirits with this wonderful story about Robert “Popeye” “Pop” Carter and Robin, told from the perspective of Stephanie Johnston, Sales and Marketing Director of Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House.
Robin Singleton, an elementary school teacher, has been a friend of the Johnston family since she was young. Stephanie met her through her in-laws, Wendall and Judy Johnston, who were Robin’s lifelong friends and traveling buddies. Pop and Wendall were always inseparable, often meeting at the local store for breakfast and stories. On some mornings, Pop would greet Stephanie at the door in his signature overalls and huge smile with a “Hey darlin!” while Wendall sat on a stool within arms distance of Pop.
Pop, Mary Kay, Pop’s wife, Wendall and Judy often had multiple vacations together per year, and shared endless evenings of card games at each other’s dinner tables, all while raising their children. Stephanie says these were some of her dearest memories that truly define a lifelong friendship they shared throughout the years.
When Wendall passed, Judy decided to come home to Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House where Mary Kay and Pop visited her often. Pop was gifted an immediate family with Robin, Mary Kay’s daughter, who became his biggest purpose in life. He works her into every story, saying “That’s my girl, she’s my world.”
As a Johnston family member, Stephanie’s family would often see Robin, her boyfriend James, Mary Kay and Pop out and about in Gloucester, Virginia. In recent years, Pop began to have some cognitive decline and his “girls” were both ready to care for him. However, on June 17, 2020 their lives would change tremendously.
Mary Kay went into the ER after fainting at home a few days prior but was sent home after she was feeling better. However, on the morning of the 17th, Mary Kay passed away in her chair and was unavailable for Robin’s daily morning call. Due to Mary Kay being Pop’s primary caregiver, you can imagine the change that was presented to Robin immediately. Robin called the Johnston’s promptly to give them the news and it was agreed the next steps were to “Call Stephanie.”
At that time, Robin needed help, a shoulder and simply a person to talk to. Stephanie’s main realization was that she had to make a difference for Robin. Robin was in a complicated situation as she was to start teaching again, was finishing her Masters degree, and was dating a great guy. She hadn’t become a mother yet, and her days were already full. She was faced with stepping into planning her mom’s/best friend’s funeral and becoming a caregiver overnight.
Although she and Pop shared common feelings, she knew she couldn’t do this alone. She brought Pop to her home, but although he is strong and rather independent, she worried for his safety. With this newfound duty, Robin never had time to breathe or grieve and there were moments on the many phone calls with Stephanie that she was overwhelmed saying “I just need a break. I need time to be quiet and just cry for my mom!”
The two immediately began talking about Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House and her options moving forward. She knew their basic financial information and that Pop had been in the military. (One of Pop’s funniest stories is how he was dishonest on his military application for the Navy. He enlisted at 16 years old and had his father sign for him.) The way Pop tells it, “They didn’t figure it out until months later when I was in Italy! I was a strong and hard worker, they liked me and decided to keep me!” This is where the name “Popeye” came from.
After walking through the application process with Stephanie, Robin paired her money with her boyfriend’s and initiated a 30 day respite stay. This allowed her the opportunity to breathe and gather herself with the support of the entire team at Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House being there whenever she needed them. Robin often tells them how they “have gone above and beyond anything she had ever thought possible.”
Through the many hurtles Robin endured during this time, the Gloucester House team worked with her to give a solution that would provide comfort in knowing this was Pop’s home. He has made friends with a group of Veterans and you can usually find him sitting by the nurses’ station with the “guys” playing a game of cards. During the day they pull the comfortable sitting chairs up and converse with one another, preferring this location as they can be the center of attention and laugh with our care staff.
Robin’s boyfriend, James, recently called Stephanie to ask for her help in coordinating a marriage proposal to Robin at Gloucester House. He said “I couldn’t think of a better place, and I want Pop to be a part of it. I imagine you having her in the garden area with Pop and me walking around the corner without her knowing.” Stephanie coordinated with the team and asked Robin to come in for a photo shoot with Pop. James and the team pulled off the wonderful surprise, and Robin said yes!
Thank you so much to Robin and James for sharing your special day with us and most importantly for letting us welcome Pop home to Commonwealth Senior Living at Gloucester House.