By George! He’s Got It!: Active Adults
Whether it’s yelling with the other fans in Yankee stadium, encouraging the ailing at a local hospital, waxing eloquent in his column in the CecilWhig or leading a discussion group at Morningside House , an assisted living community in Ellicott City, MD, George B. Prettyman certainly keeps his acquaintances, adoring readers, and new found friends motivated. While he can’t take full credit for the Yankees’ record, Mr. Prettyman can claim the uncanny ability to help friends, neighbors, and acquaintances keep up their spirits despite difficult illnesses. When he’s not visiting the hospital helping the sick back on their feet, he keeps his readers on their intellectual toes in his columns and his friends at Morningside House excited about learning through his monthly history calendars.
Mr. Prettyman has never been a man of leisure and not much has changed during his retirement. During his 21 years as a teacher at Rising Sun High School, he taught English, mathematics, psychology, and even Spanish, proving his versatility as an educator. He proudly proclaims that he accepted “whatever they wanted me to teach.” Striving to be the best teacher he could be, he was simply happy to be in the classroom. Later, he spent thirteen years in public relations for a school system. Retirement didn’t bring an end to these joys; he continued teaching at Cecil Community College, where his array of subjects expanded to include sociology, psychology, and education. After five years of service to the college, he was made Professor Emeritus in 1975.
Retirement has brought with it the opportunity to spend more time on his columns, which have been featured in the Maryland News Courier, the Cecil Democrat, the Harford Democrat, the Cecil Whig, the Havre de GraceRecord, and the Oxford Press, to name a few, over the past 50 years. He has given outsiders an insight into life on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and natives a reason to reminisce. The power of his regional voice was recognized when Cecil Community College Foundation published a collection of his columns entitled Red Top Boots and Other Personal Essays in 1997.
Although a large portion of his columns include his tongue-in-cheek ending, “By George!,” his topics range from baseball to his strong sense of faith. He recalls the lives and deaths of loved ones with such poignancy that they continue to live through his columns. His insight into the human condition has not gone unappreciated. Fan mail and email often fill his mail box and his computer screen; in fact, he gets so much mail that he is regrettably unable to answer it all. He does, though, log many an hour on his computer attempting to correspond with the thousands he has inspired across the globe. Unassuming, but visibly delighted, his only comment when asked about his fans is matter-of-fact: “I have a reader in Hong Kong.”
The same inspirational life force Mr. Prettyman conveys in his columns is also exhibited in his work in the community. The son of a preacher, and a former preacher himself, he spends his free time visiting the ill and attempting to instill in them a sense of faith and the inspiration to continue to live life to its fullest. As Kathy Black, the Director of Life Enrichment at Morningside House, relates, “He still visits the sick when they go to the hospital or Millennium and makes sure they feel good about coming back to the community. He has never lost his sense of wonder and curiosity, and I think that is part of the reason he is so motivated. It is a privilege to serve people like Mr. Prettyman. He is an encourager to everybody here; he is not only a fine writer, but he is also an inspiring pastor.” Mr. Prettyman modestly agrees, “I try to visit those who need visiting and help those who need helping.”
It was realizing that he needed a little extra help himself that led George Prettyman to Morningside House in 1999. He is quick to relate that while the decision was not an easy one, it was clearly the right one: “I miss my own home. Don’t ever get the idea that people love leaving home; that’s the hardest thing in this world, to give up everything you have known for a lifetime, but you have to have the will to accept what is best for you.” Accepting what he knew he needed has turned out to be one of the best things that has ever happened to this self-proclaimed “happy old guy.” He gracefully accepted the changes that life required and has learned from them.
When his wife, Elizabeth, died, he lived alone for ten years. Mr. Prettyman relates that he “got weary of thinking about a new roof and new carpet for the house” and that he “could no longer take care of the beautiful yard.” His move allowed him to leave mundane household chores behind and brought with it a new opportunity to be closer to his son, George, and his daughter-in-law, Barbara, who live at Glen Elg Manor Estates. “George and I,” he said, “have had a wonderful Father-Son relationship since he was a little fellow.”
A positive attitude has certainly helped to make his transition smoother, and he is quick to sing the praises of his new home: “Morningside House is a place to relax; I can do what I want anytime, day or night. I am often up until 1 o’clock in the morning writing and responding to correspondence. I get out of bed whenever I feel inspired to write.”
In addition to continuing all his previous engagements, Mr. Prettyman now spends time encouraging and educating new friends, not to mention gliding lucky women across the dance floor. In a recent visit to a local hospital to call on a fellow Morningside House resident and “a real buddy,” George was very inquisitive because he wanted to ensure that his friend was making connections with reality and his past; he also wanted to keep this friend engaged in the here and now, a simple trick that any teacher would tell you is essential for success. This life-long educator also works to keep the healthier residents of his community intellectually engaged through a monthly calendar discussion group, which includes a calendar of memorable events in history meticulously prepared by Mr.Prettyman and distributed to the residents in advance. Following George’s explanation of the calendar, the residents engage in a lively discussion.
As a well-known and often sought after resident, it is not surprising that Mr. Prettyman had no shortage of dancing partners at Morningside House’s recent Winter Ball, which he described as “a beautiful occasion, complete with a three piece orchestra.”
When he’s not busy in the community and outlying area, Mr. Prettyman still attends baseball games at Camden Yards and occasional football games at the University of Delaware, his alma mater, with his son. He also spends time visiting with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. At 90, he shows little sign of slowing down. He may not be an all-star athlete, but he loves watching them play, and he is quite the all-star in his play with words. “I am still in the process of building my own vocabulary,” Mr. Prettyman related in a recent column, but he failed to mention that he was also still in the process of helping others build and re-build their lives. If his columns can be said to have a theme, it is this simple lesson that he records in that same column: “It’s not the material things that elicit our gratitude nearly so much as it is the things of the heart and soul that count as blessings. That’s the way I feel about it, by George!”
Such a simple lesson, that so many of us could stand to learn. By George, George has got it! According to this philosophy, the numerous individuals who have been touched and inspired by George Prettyman’s spirit and thirst for life are forever indebted to him. However, George isn’t one to make collection calls; he would simply encourage those he has moved to do their part to make a difference in their communities-and to keep cheering for those Yankees!