But Mr. Brooker never could have predicted where that would take him.
In 1991, he became a member of the Warrenton-based nonprofit’s 10-member board of directors.
And then a staff reorganization resulted in his hiring as hospice support’s first community outreach director in 2005 — the year he retired as a mall and shopping center manager. (In 1980, Mr. Brooker opened Fair Oaks Mall, where he worked for 16 years.)
He held the part-time outreach job until 2012, when the board appointed him executive director.
But as much as he likes the job — the part-time executive puts in at least eight hours on his day off — the former Fauquier resident about two weeks ago decided to retire.
“It’s time,” Mr. Brooker says of the move. “I’m 74 years old, and there are other things I want to do. I told the board I would stay until the end of the month. But if they haven’t found anybody by then, I’m not going to leave them high and dry.”
As director, he supervises two part-time workers — a community outreach director and a patient care coordinator — about 40 volunteers and wears many hats.
Mr. Brooker, recruits and trains volunteers, processes donations, maintains the equipment and supplies rooms, writes four newsletters per year, prepares monthly reports for the board of directors and does “any heavy work here that’s necessary — lifting, carrying.”
Among other things, volunteers visit patients at home, providing them companionship and assistance and their caregivers relief.
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Founded in 1981, hospice support offers grief counseling services and an array of equipment and supplies at no charge, Mr. Brooker says.
“Everything we do is free,” says the Rappahannock resident.
While the organization focuses on terminally-ill Fauquier patients, it turns away no one in need.
“We have people coming in from all over the place — from Bethesda, Fredericksburg, Orange and Madison,” Mr. Brooker adds. “We will serve anybody as far as the loan closet, from anyplace. We’ll serve anybody as far as grief counseling, as long as they come to us.”
He knows of no other organization like it in the region.
It maintains two bulging “loan closets” for equipment and supplies — one in its office at 42 N. Fifth St. and the other at the CubeSmart Self Storage across from Walmart.
“The philosophy is we take everything, absolutely everything you can think of, except for medication,” Mr. Brooker explains.
Its inventory includes hospital beds, wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, canes, bathing benches, bedside commodes, bed pads, adult diapers, sheets, hospital gowns, cushions, nutritional drinks and much more.
The organization relies on donations — money, equipment and supplies — from individuals, businesses and foundations, Mr. Brooker says.
“We depend totally on the generosity of the community we serve.”
He estimated that grants account for 20 percent of hospice support’s funding.
Fauquier County government and the Town of Warrenton — longtime contributors — this year gave the organization $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.
Mr. Brooker declined to discuss the nonprofit’s finances.
Edited interview excerpts follow.
• Why did you get involved with Hospice Support of Fauquier County?
I had cancer in 1989, and I was supposedly terminally ill. Some tests came back that showed that it was likely that my cancer had spread to my spine, my skull and my back. And they were wrong.
I had cancer, but it was in my right kidney. They removed the kidney. It took me a long time to recover, but I ended up fine.
I really wanted to do something as a thank-you for not being terminally ill. I got involved as a volunteer.
• Did you fear death because of the cancer?
I feared that I was not going to live long enough to see my boys grow and have families, and that my wife and I would not be able to grow old together.
• Did cancer change you in any way?
Betsy and I always had a good marriage. It made it even better; it made us much closer.
It probably made me more religious, because I was pretty thankful it turned not to be terminal. I was blessed to have more years with my wife. I didn’t think that was going to happen. I was only 45 at the time.
• Many people probably associate hospice with terminally-ill cancer patients.
It’s much broader than that. People succumb to heart disease, dementia; there are several forms of dementia. There’s lung disease. There’s failure to thrive; people slow down and come to a stop.
The rest of it is a mixed bag.
• What percentage of patients suffer from cancer?
Maybe 20 percent. I would say 30 percent have dementia.
• What are the biggest challenges facing the organization?
We are growing so rapidly that we need a new location. If you saw our loan closet last week, if you saw our secondary closet at the CubeSmart (Self Storage across from Warrenton’s Walmart), you would understand we need twice as much space as we have.
• Other big challenges?
I always need more volunteers, because the number of patients we serve is growing.
Volunteers will work for you a couple of years, and they may burn out and may want to do other volunteering. You’re constantly looking to replace those that leave.
There are certain things we’re always running out of — incontinent supplies, diapers. We always need those. We always need nutritional drinks. We need walkers with a seat so patients can sit and rest.
We take everything but medication.
• What do like most about the job?
The helping people part. I’m selfish that way. I get more than I give. I get thank-yous; I get appreciation. Even if I don’t get that verbally, I feel good that I’m helping somebody. This is a feel-good job.
• What do you like least about the job?
Periodically — not for long — there are slow periods, where I’ve got everything done. Then it’s, “Now what am I going to do? I’ve got to do something? What is it?”
• Post-retirement, what will you do with the extra free time?
I’ve been approached by the food bank in Rappahannock to volunteer out there. That’s one of my soft spots — feeding the hungry.
• Will you miss the job?
• How so?
I’ll miss the people contact, the volunteers, all the people who know me by my first name, because they come in here all the time and need assistance.
• What won’t you miss?
Having to lift heavy equipment — hospital beds, motorized wheelchairs, motorized scooters — and loading them into trucks to get to patients.
• What are you most proud of during your tenure as executive director?
The quality of the volunteers we have — both the patient care and the ladies that volunteer in the front office.
I’m proud of the growth and use of our loan closet and the steady growth in the number of patients we serve.
• Would you do anything differently?
Not really. I think the systems we set up and the progress we’ve made in our outreach in advertising, web page and Facebook is miles ahead when I started as executive director.
• Any regrets?
I hope I don’t regret retiring (laughs).
Thank you for everything you've done to help and support our community. You are the kind of person that brings out the best in others and you will be missed but never forgotten. Best wishes for a very happy and blessed retirement! Craig & Sue