A Different Kind of Gentlemen’s Club: Prime Timers Richmond
Garnett Puckett leads a Sunday evening Prime Timers group
Growing old aint easy, but it can be made a little easier. It’s important to find solace with those you can relate to if you came out late in life, had a family but your coming out made it difficult, or are just looking for some friends in your age group. These issues are faced by the elderly, gay or straight. But Richmond’s Prime Timers is here to make sure you don’t walk it alone.
“The big thing about prime-timers is camaraderie. Building lifelong friendships. There’s nothing worse than being a single man, gay or straight, and alone,” said Bob Jones, one of the founders of Richmond Prime Timers and a member of the group’s board. “I’m not talking about partnerships–it happens–but friendships you can count on and depend upon. If you’re in need, [or] sick, pick up a phone, we’re there.”
Jones’s story is similar to that of many of the members. He had reached the age of retirement and devoted much of his free time to work. He realized, now in his golden years, that he had few friends he could relate to. “When I was ready to retire, and I was, at that point, single, I realized I didn’t know anybody anymore.”
Bob Jones at a recent Prime Timers meeting
Jones started to do some research and that’s when he came across Prime Timers World Wide. “Our members are men who choose to have their social lives enriched by the diverse activities in which our members engage,” boasts PTWW website.
In 1987, a retired professor, Woody Baldwin, founded the group after realizing the gap that existed for gay men in his age group. He placed ads in the local paper, and before long the group had chapters spring up around the world. Prime Timers World Wide keeps itself a-political and lacks a religious affiliation, though it does concern itself with the way society handles the aging gay population. “As our organization grows, we will be leading the pack in seeking answers to the needs and problems of maturing gay and bisexual men.” And with 75 chapters, PTWW has grown a lot.
Much like Baldwin’s story of the humble beginnings of Prime Timers, Jones and the early days of Richmond Prime Timers followed similar steps. He spread the word about the group where he could. 18 people showed up for the first Richmond meeting. Jones told the fledgling group “You 18 guys, go find more guys,’” and the next meeting had 40 members. At its peak Richmond Prime Timers had 150 members. Now, its membership floats around 100.
Jones said members of Prime Timers were not fond of the modern gay scene which involved bars with loud music. “It hurts old ears. I like to talk to people, so that didn’t work.” Luckily, St. Marks Episcopal church was more than willing to let the group use their basement as a meeting space. But the group’s activities are not limited to the church basement; in fact, one of the highlights of the group is how active they are.
Book clubs, pool night, an Italian cooking class, weekly lunches, day trips; Prime Timers members stay busy, to say the least. “It’s very important for older people to stay busy and communicate,” said PT’s President, Garnett Puckett. “A lot of us don’t have family left. It can be a very lonely existence if you don’t have anybody. This is a family. We need each other. We help each other.” The group stays very connected, via email and the phone, and helps one another when they can. Recently, a member was getting ready to move out of the area, and a few members came together to help him pack and load the truck. “We take care of each other,” said Puckett.
Puckett worked with Jones to get Richmond Prime Timers off the ground. His story–coming out late in life, married for 14 years–is something a lot of the men in the group shared. And this late-in-life, wife and kids history is one that is understood, but not often discussed. Support is offered if and when members want to talk about it, but for Puckett and many others, Prime Timers has become a new family. “It’s not discussed unless it really needs to be discussed. Some members aren’t really out yet… Just because we’re gay, we don’t really get into the ‘gayness’ much, [but] we still need friendship. The younger generation doesn’t understand that, they just hop from bed to bed.”
Bob Pollock, a retired school teacher, has been with Prime Timers for 8 years. He lives in Hanover County, where social groups for gay men, let alone older gay men, really don’t exist. “I hadn’t circulated much, and I was told it would be a good place to come and meet some people. It took me 2-3 years to get into it, I was on-again-off-again.” But after a while, he came to realize how much the group meant to him, and took on a leadership role by joining the board. Pollock enjoys the larger meetings, but he also praises the smaller group activities – movie nights, and fine dining groups. “It’s where most of the socializing take place,” said Pollock.
Pollock, who had a wife and now has grandkids, said that shared experience of having a family and coming out late is what makes the group so important. “It’s a group of mature men who get together just to have the companionship. To be with other gay men, who have had the same experience.”
While the group’s age range is higher than your average club goer, Jones described Prime Timers as welcoming to any male over the age of 21. “Many young people do find older people interesting,” said Jones. “Some of our guys are very old. Guy [Kinman], one of our founding members, [is 95].” Some older men bring their younger companions to meetings, and the atmosphere is very welcoming and fairly diverse.
Among the group’s many smaller successes, the one incident that stood out in most of the members minds was their visit to the biennial Prime Timers meet up in Houston Texas about 9 years ago. 13 members of the Richmond group attended, and they were the largest out-of-state presence over any of the other groups.
Prime Timers continues to meet throughout the month. The group’s annual picnic happens next month. For information about Prime Timers and how you can get involved, contact Bob Jones via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This Sunday, a unique chance to learn more about how the Affordable Care Act will affect older members of the LGBT community will be available at the GCCR. Here’s some more info via the events Facebook page: Join SAGE Central Virginia for our October Community Conversation on Sunday, October 20 from 2 to 4 pm for a [...]October 18, 2013
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