Lifelong Health & Aging

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Betty MacKenzie always had a project going.

The wife of an Episcopalian minister adored cooking for a crew, sewing clothes or simple tasks like arranging flowers. She sang in the choir; she served in the vestry. When she moved into her new home at Riverside Healthy Living Community - Smithfield a year and a half ago, she brought many of her treasures from her Elizabeth City, North Carolina, home with her. Her own queen-sized bed and pine chest of drawers, watercolor prints and smaller antiques make her room cozy and inviting.

“Mom’s room is a showplace,” said her daughter, Hazel Mason, a schoolteacher in Newport News. “It’s a sweet corner room, and it feels really homey.”

MacKenzie lives in the Memory Support unit, The Garden, designed for residents experiencing varying levels of memory impairment. A stroke has made her speech difficult to decipher at times, but Mason is heartened by all the staff members who take the time to sit down and chat a while.

“Mom loves to talk, and she can get frustrated,” Mason said. “But everyone from the nurses to the aides to the folks who come in to clean the rooms — they’re all just lovely to her.”

With visitation limited due to COVID-19, Mason initially worried about staying connected to her mother. But Martha Hunt, a longtime member of the Riverside team at Smithfield, devised an easy solution. Mason carries a folding chair in her car that she takes out to sit outside of her mother’s window. Team members turn MacKenzie’s chair around to face the window and even will take the screen out so Mom and daughter can catch up.

“There’s always a breeze under the awning, and Mom and I pretty much cover everything we need to,” Mason said. “She can hear me fine.”

On Sundays, Mason will dial up MacKenzie’s twin brother, Jack, who lives in Tampa. The trio will share a three-way call on speaker.

“Mom has lived a really full life,” Mason said. “My dad used to say she could write a check in Russia and nobody would ask her for ID. She made friends easily everywhere she’s ever met.”

Her Smithfield home included.