A LIFE CARING FOR OTHERS
Gary Winfield’s life has been focused primarily on caring for others. According to Gary, as a young boy, his life and that of two of his siblings “revolved around” their youngest brother, Keith, who was born with severe handicaps. When his parents became older, and in poor health, and his older brother Steve became ill, Gary helped care for them in their homes. His life happily changed when he married and accepted the additional responsibilities of becoming a step-dad to Danny, age 12, and Holley, age 10.
Gary Winfield was born in Memphis in 1956 to devout Catholic parents. He and his siblings, Steve and Cindy, were educated in Catholic schools. Because of Keith’s handicaps, Gary’s parents realized the need for an educational institution for handicapped children. His father was responsible for founding Madonna Day School, now Madonna Learning Center located in Germantown, Tennessee, and an engraved picture of his father hangs in the entrance to the building. His father served as Deputy Director of the Memphis Fire Department for several years, later becoming the Fire Chief of Shelby County, Tennessee.
After graduating from Catholic High School in 1975, Gary began employment with the Memphis Fire Department, remaining there until 1981. Because of his strong educational background and motivation, Gary began pursuing additional education. While working in “transitional” jobs, Gary first obtained an AAS in Business Accounting from State Technical Institute at Memphis. He then earned a BS in Business Administration from Christian Brothers University, and finally, an MS from the University of Arkansas in Operations Management.
In 1990, Gary began work at the Memphis Veterans Hospital as a Fire and Safety Inspector. In 1991, he met his future wife, Florence Greissinger (Flo), who was working at the VA as the Acquisition and Materials Manager Supervisor. When asked what attracted him to Flo, Gary responded, “Well, first of all I learned that she was single and a Catholic, and she was such a sweet person and enjoyable to be with.” They were married on Memorial Day weekend in 1993.
With his marriage to Flo, Gary became step-dad to Danny and Holley Greissinger. This was certainly a new role for him! According to Gary, “My father gave me good advice before my new role was assumed. He said, ‘Son, remember that blood is thicker than water.’ He knew,” continues Gary, “That I was not one to ‘mince’ my words. I followed his advice when I was tempted many times to speak up in situations that involved the children. The children, however, were very good children, and I never once heard Flo raise her voice in anger or discouragement. She is a wonderful mother!”
Gary and Flo’s family lived in Germantown, Tennessee, where both Danny and Holley attended Farmington and Houston schools. Both were athletic and participated in recreational and competitive soccer. Danny attended State Tech and is now a journeyman electrician and lives in Germantown. Holley graduated from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and is a paralegal and mother to Hanna and Sara. They live in North Carolina, and according to Gary, “It is difficult to get all of us together now. However, just a few weeks ago, the four of us spent an entire week together and it was GREAT! Danny and Holley are doing well, and I give all the credit to Flo.”
In 1999, Gary left the VA to again work for the Memphis Fire Department, and after 60 years of combined government service, both Gary and Flo retired; Gary in 2008 and Flo in 2010. They moved to Pickwick in Hardin County, Tennessee, and enjoyed traveling on several cruises to the Caribbean, France, Spain, and Italy. “Our favorite place was Rome,” says Gary.
During the ten years living at Pickwick, Flo gradually developed Parkinson’s’ disease. Again, Gary found himself in a caregiver’s role. “After the 15 years of caring for both parents and my brother Steve, who passed away in 1978, I’m now into the ninth year of caring for Flo,” says Gary. Anticipating a future need, Gary and Flo moved to Kirby Pines in April 2020.
“We moved to Kirby at the beginning of COVID which made it difficult to adjust,” admits Gary. “However,” he continues, “We were welcomed with open arms by Administration, and we have found everyone very friendly and helpful.” Flo eventually moved to the Manor and was recently transferred to Jordan River Health Facility at The Farms. Consequently, he finds little time to get involved with activities at Kirby. He does attend the Wednesday Catholic service held in the Chapel each week and Mass at Holy Spirit Church every Sunday.
Gary wanted to let everyone know that his brother Keith has done well because of the help he received attending Madonna Day School. He graduated from Christian Brothers High School and Christian Brothers University! He now lives in a retirement community after retiring from 32 years of employment by the Federal Government. Keith has made a YouTube video in which he discusses the history of Madonna Learning Center.
Giving some parting advice to all step-dads, Gary says, “To all of you who might be reading this, STAY IN YOUR OWN LANE!” That seems to be good advice for all of us.
Written by Joan Dodson, Resident, Kirby Pines.