PROFILE: Even in the rain

By AMY FERGUSON / For the Reporter

In times of crisis, like a global pandemic for example, it’s the ones operating behind-the-scenes who make the greatest impact. It’s the Amazon deliverers, grocery store employees, hospital sanitation workers, mailmen and women and so many others who have proven to be the most valuable players of COVID-19. Among the group of inspiring all stars in our community is a man who, despite his own susceptibility to the virus, refused to let it stop his generosity towards his fellow humans in great need.

Let me introduce you to Greyson Palmer, a spry, 83-year-old go-getter who will not let a silly thing like age slow him down. In fact, Greyson is thriving and lives his best life by enhancing the lives of those around him, whether he’s living in a global pandemic or not. Even before the coronavirus disrupted our collective world, Greyson was serving the most vulnerable, the elderly—never mind the fact that he falls into this category himself—by delivering food to homebound seniors through the Columbiana Senior Center’s Meals on Wheels program.

“I started volunteering because it gave me something to do after I retired,” Greyson tells me. “But, I really do enjoy the work. Actually, it’s not work to me.”

In the age of COVID-19, however, Greyson, being over the age of 65, is considered more susceptible to the virus and discouraged from being out and about. But you better try again if you think the warning gave Greyson any pause.

“When the virus initially struck, we asked the volunteers to stop delivering to protect both them and the meal recipients, all of whom are considered higher risk,” says Ali Payne, the executive director of the Columbiana Senior Center who manages the Meals on Wheels program. “But Greyson did not want to give up volunteering. He continued to call and come by to check on us.”

A few months later, with new health and safety protocols in place, the center resumed its somewhat normal operations again. Greyson, protected with a face mask and gloves, was one of the first to happily jump right back into volunteer mode. Exactly no one was surprised.

Pandemic aside, the bedrock of the Meals on Wheels program has always been to deliver nutritious meals to older Americans who lack support, mobility and resources to provide for themselves. But, there’s more to the program than just food. It also serves to provide a connection and companionship for isolated seniors, many of whom are plagued with chronic loneliness. In fact, according to the Meals on Wheels website, 58 percent of home-delivered meal recipients live alone. For many, the person delivering the meal, people like Greyson, is often the only person they will see that day.

“I sort of cut up with [the seniors] a little bit,” Greyson reveals. “I try to get them to smile and laugh every once in a while. They seem to enjoy it.”

But from where Ali sits, Greyson offers much more than that and must give credit where credit is due. “Greyson spends time with each senior, knows the names of their pets, what their kids are doing, and what all is going on in their lives,” Ali says. “He has no affiliation to the program, other than the fact that he just loves to volunteer and help people.”

Not only do the seniors look forward to Greyson’s company, but he’s a welcome sight to the fur-babies along the route as well. “I bring doggie treats with me,” Greyson says. “Folks seem to appreciate that for their pets as well.”

With an age-defying energy level and willing-to-do-anything-for-anybody attitude, Greyson’s service towards others certainly does not stop with the Meals on Wheels program. “I’ve seen him buy lunch for strangers, cut a neighbor’s grass and even unclog toilets that didn’t belong to him,” Ali says. “I have never heard Greyson complain, though at 83, I imagine he could.”

For a slightly different perspective on Greyson’s generosity, I connected with his son, Taft Palmer, who lives in Denver, Colorado. Although he is over 1,000 miles away, Taft still keeps up with what his parents are doing and where they are going on a daily basis. So he is not at all surprised when I share with him and wonderful things spoken about his father. In fact, he can quickly identify the two factors he believes drive his father’s dedication to the community: family and faith.

“My grandmother lived ‘til she was 98, and she was the exact same way when it came to helping others,” Taft tells me. “[My father] feels like he’s doing something that maybe God has put it on his heart to do. Who wouldn’t get a sense of feel-good-ism after you’ve [delivered meals to those in need]? He really does enjoy it.”

On Greyson’s “off-days,” he remains on the go like a man more than half his age. He lives in the Lay Lake area with his wife, Robbie, to whom he’s been married for an incredible 61 years. (The secret to his long and happy marriage has been keeping his mouth shut, he told me with a laugh). With a residence on the lake, it’s only natural that he would enjoy the water, fishing on his boat, and then of course, there’s the occasional cruise on his motorcycle, a hobby that continues to scare both Taft and his sister to this day.

“He’s a rolling stone,” Taft says. “I have to get onto him. Otherwise he will wear himself down.”

To me, it doesn’t sound like Greyson is going to stop rolling anytime soon. He just has so much kindness left to give, and in this social distancing world, we could all use a little more of that, right? “I really do enjoy getting out and being with the people,” Greyson says. “Even on the rainy days, when it’s sort of a challenge.”