Dorothy is as optimistic about life as it’s possible to be. “Being positive is my main objective,” she says. “We all have our share of problems – it’s not nice to live with blindness – but I don’t think there’s anyone alive who doesn’t have problems of some sort.
“I don’t ever think negatively,” she adds. “We all are here for a purpose and my purpose is to be satisfied with whatever I can achieve. I may not be prime minister, but I have still achieved.”
In fact, Dorothy has achieved a great deal. When she and her husband were unable to have their own children they fostered many others, and gave respite care to help parents in desperate need. One of her foster children is coming back to see her this Christmas, with her own children.
Dorothy says she always lives life to the full. “I am always active,” she says. “If I sit still for five minutes, I have to start to do something again. That’s what keeps me going. “When I go to the day centre I say to the others, ‘Let’s have a dance.’ We have to enjoy today; you don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”
Dorothy came to the UK from Jamaica in the 1960s, and first received help from Independent Age around 13 years ago. She has a volunteer visitor, Kerry, who visits her once a week and the two women talk, play games, laugh together and learn from each other. “Kerry doesn’t know what it was like before she was born so I do my best to educate her,” Dorothy explained to staff at an Independent Age meeting.
Her words chimed with the staff, but especially with those who share her Afro-Caribbean heritage.
“When I saw Dorothy I instantly thought of my grandma,” says Donna from the marketing team. “Then, when I heard her speak, she was philosophical in the same way as my grandma is; her philosophy of being positive is so similar. For me, watching and listening to Dorothy was quite emotional. She has the same spirit as my grandma.
Donna’s grandmother, Lola, is 92 and her grandfather, Daniel, is 99. They came to the UK from Antigua in the 1950s, working here till they returned to Antigua when they retired. “They passed on to us their wisdom and provided for their family while carrying with them memories of being in Antigua and telling us how different life was here,” says Donna.
Just as Dorothy keeps active, Donna’s gran still goes swimming at 5am every morning from Monday to Friday, following this with a tot of rum. She is one of around 14 women, with an average age of 75, that take the plunge.
Donna’s gran and Dorothy share a great positivity, achieved against the odds. “The people that came over from the Caribbean were sold a promise that they would have good lives here. Still it was hard for them. They had so many problems: racism, unemployment. My granddad was a tailor and first came here with this massive Singer sewing machine, but once here he could only get work in factories. He tailored on the side. They always had to hold their heads up high and soldier on.”
One of the advisers at Independent Age, Eve, whose parents Elvira and James came here from Montserrat in the 1950s, had the same response to hearing Dorothy’s positive message. “I was brought up hearing that growing old is a blessing and every moment should be cherished,” she says.
“Dorothy reminded me of a typical West Indian woman, through her mannerisms, behaviour and warmth. My first observation of Dorothy instantly brought back poignant memories of my Aunty Jane who lived with us and always baked excellent bread, tarts and cakes without scales, though she would never share her recipes.
“My mother told us how life was in the 50s, having to work three or four jobs to provide for her ten children and often paid less than her peers. In saying that, we never went without food or looked dishevelled. My mother, a woman of great faith, would always refer back to her favourite verse Psalms 121: 1, ‘I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from where comes my help’.
Some more wisdom comes to Eve’s mind: “Dorothy is sound evidence of an old West Indian saying in Patwah, ‘If yu cyaa get turkey, satisfy wid John Crow,’ which means, ‘Make the best of a bad situation, and be contented with what you have.’
“I can think of no better way of living than by running with this motto."