September 15, 2017
Everyone Loves Holliswood’s Volunteer Margaret Darby
Four years ago, 83 year-old Holliswood Center volunteer Margaret Darby became close friends with a woman in her church who later got very sick and then became a resident at Holliswood Center. Upon visiting her friend daily at the Center, a desire to volunteer at Holliswood Center grew and in no time, Margaret became a Holliswood Center volunteer. This was back in 2013 and today Margaret comes into the Center once or twice a week to friends of the residents, having conversations with them, teaching them certain skills, learning about their lives. To know Margaret is to understand her amazing life.
When Margaret retired from the New York Daily News during the nationally publicized strike in October 1990, the well-loved and highly respected contributing writer was offered and received a very nice buyout. The newspaper said that the buyout had been intended only for those who gave the paper over 20 years of service and passed their 57th birthday. At that point, Margaret had only worked at the Daily News for 17 years, so even though she didn’t have the employment time, she had the age. What’s more, she was given a pension for life.
“That was a blessing to me,” Darby remembers.
At the Daily News, Margaret had a number of responsibilities. She wrote a fishing column, contributed to the classifieds, death notices, and also wrote poems around Valentine’s Day. With all of her tasks, her biggest love was writing poems, a talent that she portrayed all of her life. In fact, Margaret can craft a poem on the spur of the moment, a talent she says, helped her when her mother passed away of Alzheimer’s Disease in 1999 (please see the poem below.)
“I have these (poems) in my head and they are created instantly, especially the one I have for my mother,” said Margaret. “She had Alzheimer’s Disease and I believe that Alzheimer’s is a prison. I truly believe that everyone has something, a place in them that never gets sick, about them that’s connected to God, but this disease locks them in like a prison and they can’t get out. I know that some part of them listens and when they pass away, they are free.”
Born in Washington DC, her family relocated to Jamaica, Queens when she was three months old, and became the place where she would grow up and still live there today. Margaret saw Idlewild Airport (later renamed John F. Kennedy Airport) and Rochdale Village being built. She remembers the Van Wyck Expressway taking shape as well. In the 1960’s, Margaret worked at the Long Island Press as a telemarketer, a job offered to her after her supervisor sent her to Drake Business School to learn how to type. This is when she first saw the goodness in certain people who back then broke the color barrier.
“Her name was Ernestine and she took me under her wing,” recalls Margaret.
Margaret fondly remembers her family, her mother, father, two sisters and a brother, although all of them deceased, she loved them all. Today, she has two beautiful daughters, one grandson, and coming soon, a great grandchild. Much of her family lives in Maryland. Margaret’s youngest daughter, a wood paint artist just had a successful showing this year of her work. Her her oldest is a teacher. Her husband Paul Darby, who passed away in 1989, was employed by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems where he had a critical job of maintaining the painting on military aircraft.
These days at the Jamaica, Queens nursing home and rehabilitation facility, Margaret is teaching a wheelchair-bound resident how to play Suduko. She says it will take a few hours to teach how the game works but she says it’s well worth it if he learns how to play. Margaret also works with a female resident on the 4th floor who never gets out of bed. She says that she has a great personality but it’s her choice to live this way. Margaret volunteers one or two days a week and treasures the visits and conversations she has with the residents there. In addition to these priceless conversations, Margaret also helps the residents with drawing and coloring. She says she encourages them even when they don’t want to. During the fall, she gathers leaves and brings them into the home so the residents can touch them because, she feels, many people only see what’s going on outside and they never touch it. She once made scarves and bracelets for all of the residents and many of them still have them.
“When I was a little girl, I thought people were born old,” remembers Margaret. “I used to say nobody could get that old. But I came to realize that people have stories, they have lives. Here at Holliswood, I met teachers and they used to tell me what they did when they were young. I met dancers, one who was on Broadway and one who played the piano. And they teach me their languages. But I love to come here because I loved to listen, listening is what I do.”
As for Holliswood Center volunteer Margaret Darby, she isn’t going anywhere and will not stop volunteering. When asked how she wants to be remembered, she laughs cleverly, “I want to keep doing this until I can’t, but I would want to be missed with a smile.”
Dance Your Dance and Sing Your Song, Grab a Sunbeam for Your Hair
Bathe In Sweet and Crystal Waters, Know Not a Worry, Not a Care,
Spread Your Arms and Rest Against a Breeze
And Sore Like an Eagle, High Above the Trees,
Play Tag with a Star, Dance In Shimmering Rain
We Rejoice That You Are Free, And Beautiful And Young Again,
So Long Sweet Annie, Your Time Here is Through
We’ll Miss You But We Know That When It’s Time For Us To Go,
We’ll Be Seeing You.
– Written by Margaret Darby, for her Mother