A New Chapter at Chesterbrook Residences Assisted Living

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By Christy Brudin

The best books leave the reader anxious to start each new chapter. The best people are no different. They approach the next chapter of their lives with anticipation and a sense of excitement that propels them into discovery, promotes creativity and provides a rich view of life.

Julia McLean Williams, at age 84, still can’t wait to turn the page! Throughout her many adventures all over the world, chapter after chapter have been added that continue to shape her life and philosophy.

Now living at Chesterbrook Residences, an active assisted living community in Falls Church, Virginia, Julia thrives. “It is a place that nourishes,“ she said. Chesterbrook Residences is a non-profit, mixed income assisted living supported by Lewinsville Presbyterian Church, Immanuel Presbyterian Church and Temple Rodef Shalom.

One of Julia’s earliest professional experiences set the tone for her remarkable career and her approach to life. In a job at the beginning of her career, she was asked to teach a severely handicapped child who had hydrocephalous. She found she had to become a scientist and search for ways to reach the person in this silent little girl.

“One day as I looked intently into the child’s eyes, I saw a sudden and unexpected flash of life, like a light, in her eyes,” Julia said. “I realized in that profound moment that she could understand love in the same way I did.” From then on throughout her teaching career, she looked into the face of her students to find that flash of light to build on. Following this experience, she was asked to start the first class for exceptional children in the public schools in Lincoln Parrish in Louisiana.

A great ten-year “chapter” took place in her life when Julia, her husband and children moved to the high plain of Bolivia, South America. Before their departure, they spent a year completing Spanish Language study in Costa Rica. Their work in Bolivia was to help the Aymara Indians improve their agricultural techniques and thus their well being. “We all became citizens of the world in those years,” Julia said.

Upon return to the U.S., Julia was asked to start a non-profit special school in Raleigh, NC. It incorporated her philosophy that interdependency is the highest form of maturity, not independence. “I put normal, gifted and handicapped children together because we live in the world that way,” she explained. The school is called Learning Together, Inc. and continues as an exemplary, award-winning program after 30 years.

Several years later when Julia was president of the Mission Board of the United Methodist Conference in North Carolina, she was involved in taking teams to Bolivia to work on special projects there. In a remote area in Trinidad, Bolivia, a team worked with a small group of lepers. Marcelo was the first leper they met. He was nearly blind, could stand, but not walk. He lived in a pitiful small room behind an abandoned hospital. He was isolated and ill.

chesterbrook assisted living resident

Julia McLean Williams, at age 84

Julia remembered, “When I put my arm around him, he cried. He told me he was crying because no one had touched him for 20 years.”

Despite his circumstances, Marcelo thought only of the needs of others. He attributed his joy and concern for others to a vision he had in the middle of the night years before. He said that in the vision Jesus came and stood beside his cot and said to him, “Marcelo, use who you are and be happy.” Even the decades since this happened cannot dull the impact of this chapter. Marcelo has challenged the hundreds of people who have heard his story to “use who you are and be happy.”

After retiring, Julia developed macular degeneration and could no longer live at home alone. She began the extensive research of retirement facilities that led her to Chesterbrook Residences in Falls Church, VA.

“I looked at several places and knew I wouldn’t survive in them because there was no stimulation,” Julia remembered. When she walked into the lobby of Chesterbrook, the experience was much different. “People were sitting in lovely nooks, talking and laughing. The atmosphere was alive with energy,” Julia said. “I knew I was home. I never regretted moving one second.”

When she isn’t busy with Chesterbrook‘s many activities, Julia is often with companion, Bill Meyer. The two met shortly after she arrived at Chesterbrook. Her newfound love is one of the many things she treasures about this new chapter in her life.

Today, Julia focuses on finishing her book, How Do You Spell JOY? The title is derived from an innocent question asked of her by a young Chilean refugee as he wrote a letter to his grandmother in Chile about his new life after being adopted by Julia’s church.

Whether as an author, educator, missionary, mother of four or grandmother of eight, Julia looks forward to starting each new chapter. After all, a new chapter offers opportunities to give and receive JOY- no matter how you spell it!

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