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Caring for Aging Parents

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Brenda Simmons-Hutchins wouldn’t have it any other way.

By Devan Stuart Lesley

Retired from Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) since 2008 where she served as Executive Dean for Instruction and Student Services, Brenda Simmons-Hutchins now dedicates a significant part of her post-retirement life to caring for her parents, Roxwell Robinson, Sr. and Janie Robinson. From grocery shopping and managing schedules to chauffeuring them to a multitude of doctors’ appointments, Brenda has embraced the responsibilities of parental caregiving, made even more meaningful as her father celebrated his 100th birthday in October 2023.

Brenda Simmons-Hutchins, husband Leroy and her parents.

“My mother would spank me if I told you exactly how old she is,” Simmons-Hutchins said with a laugh. “But my dad is 100 and she’s two and a half years younger.”

“They live alone and are pretty independent at home,” Simmons-Hutchins says of her parents who live just five miles from her and husband, Leroy Hutchins. “My mother still insists on having my dad’s breakfast, lunch, and dinner ready every day, so she’s still cooking. But both had their drivers’ licenses taken away within the past 18 months, so my husband and I arrange to take them wherever they need.”

Roxwell Robinson, Sr. and his wife Janie.

Last September, Mr. Robinson took a fall on the way to the mailbox which resulted in hip replacement surgery followed by a month of nursing home recuperation. “He fell on the fifth of September, had surgery the next day and got home just in time for his 100th birthday.”

Thankfully, Mr. Robinson was back on his feet quickly. But the fact that he’ll never be behind the wheel again is what hits home hardest for Simmons-Hutchins.

“My dad has always been in the driver’s seat, whether it was Sunday afternoon family drives to the beach or a cross-country trip to San Diego,” she says. “Losing that privilege was not only tough on him, but it was a wakeup call for me. It’s when I realized he truly needed me.”

Simmons-Hutchins is certainly not alone. Research reveals that approximately 17% of U.S. adults (41.8 million people) provide unpaid care for adults over the age of 50. More than 75% of these caregivers are women who, on average, dedicate enough time each week to equal a full-time job (despite also being otherwise employed or raising children). In financial terms, caregivers contribute over $470 billion in free labor annually.

Simmons-Hutchins notes that her prior experience as an executive remains valuable even in retirement. “It’s interesting to me that my experience as an Executive Dean, managing faculty and students and my many other responsibilities is, in some ways, similar. I’m still multitasking. And I’m always on call.”

Following in her mother’s footsteps, Simmons-Hutchins began her nearly four-decade career as a teacher and continued to serve in the classroom throughout her progression up the ranks to Florida State College at Jacksonville’s Executive Dean for Instruction and Student Services.

Roxwell Robinson, Sr. and his wife Janie, on his 100th birthday.

“Even as an administrator, I always taught at least one class,” said Simmons-Hutchins, who also chaired the Jacksonville Public Library board of directors. “Teaching is my calling. So, as I found myself climbing the ladder, I still wanted to keep my feet on the ground and remain very close to the students to understand how administrative decisions impacted them.”

Retired since 2008, Simmons-Hutchins continues to work as an independent educational consultant. But her most important lessons these days are those designed to ensure that her parents know that they come first for her. “And I wouldn’t have it any other way,” she says, noting that she’s simply returning the favor.

At first, her parents were apologetic. “I cut that off at the very beginning,” Simmons-Hutchins said. “The biggest challenge has always been helping my parents understand that what I’m doing for them is not a burden for me. I reminded them of the sacrifices they made for me, and that God is always in the plan.”

Simmons-Hutchins points to a deeply trying experience when she fell sick as a teenager.

“This was at the very beginning of integration. Black doctors were not yet allowed to practice in white hospitals,” she said, noting that her architect grandfather’s business contacts cleared the way for her treatment by a white Green Cove Springs physician – a bold move in that era. “My parents worked their jobs, prepared meals for my siblings, then drove to Green Cove Springs and back every evening. They went above and beyond. So, when I realized that they needed help, there was no question as to whether I would care for them.”

Simmons-Hutchins’ advice for those considering caring for their parents:

Stay organized: “Get organized logistically and emotionally. A managed care plan is a smart move.”

Connect: “I have a friend who has walked the same path with her parents that I’m walking now and understands the frustrations and all the ups and downs. She listens intently and always offers a word of comfort.”

Have a spiritual foundation: “Remember why you’re doing what you are. You can only imagine the sleepless nights your parents had for you, and that you’ll have for them. It’s a treasured reciprocation.”

Continually drawing upon a strong Christian upbringing, Simmons-Hutchins keeps Exodus 20:12 in the forefront of her mind: “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long upon the land.” 

Cover Photo by Renee Parenteau 

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