In the spirit of Love Month, I wanted to hear from someone who’s been in love for longer than I’ve even lived. Dolores Lindsay, an 81-year-old woman born and raised in Cincinnati, knows a thing or two about romantic love (she was married for 56 years), familial love (she’s extremely close with her five children and eight grandchildren) and love for her community and work (she is the founder, president and CEO of the The HealthCare Connection, the first community health center in Ohio). Below, her as-told-to story of what she’s learned along the way.
My husband and I met during my sophomore year of high school. He was a senior. He played basketball and was very active in his school and community, and we hit it off. We dated for two-and-a-half years or so, and we married the second year I was out of high school.
We were married for 56 years before he passed away — this past year would have been 60. During our marriage, we had five children and eight grandchildren. He was my partner in everything that mattered. He was always my strength. He helped me see things that I needed to see.
There were struggles at times, but they didn’t get in the way of our respect and love for each other. To get through those struggles, you have to talk about them. You have to admit that you are struggling, and you have to acknowledge that the other person has concerns and issues. Once you respect that, it helps you to work through them. I say “work through them” because not everything is a bed of roses, but it can be.
For those looking for a partner, you have to decide what you would like to have in your life and the type of mate you want to meet. Then you have to be looking for that person, but not in all the wrong places. You can pray to your higher power or supreme being — mine is my God — and ask for what you want.
My husband was my stabilizing force. He enabled me to build The HealthCare Connection. He didn’t physically do anything with it, but he helped with the kids when I had to be away or was in meetings. He did all the things that enabled me to do what I was doing — helping with school activities, making dinner, whatever. He worked in the evenings; I worked during the day. In order to be a family unit, we had breakfasts together like most would have dinner together.
When I got involved in the health center, I wasn’t working. I was a stay-at-home mom, or a “housewife,” as we were called in those days. My involvement began as a volunteer effort. I was a young mom with four children and one more on the way, and I realized there were no primary care health services in the community. I saw the need to serve our people who didn’t have access to health care and realized that I could help make things better for people.
I had to recognize that I couldn’t do it alone. You always have to collaborate with others to realize the vision that you may have for yourself. In building this organization, the staff and people who saw my vision and helped make it a reality allowed me to continue.
To me, being a leader means being both passionate and compassionate. I’m most passionate about seeing that everyone is treated equally. I’m most passionate about making sure the underserved have the opportunity to be recognized as Americans equal to everyone else. You have to stick to what you believe. Whatever you believe your purpose is, you must stick with it. You can change over time, in terms of how you approach it, but you can’t be wishy-washy. It’s important to be steadfast in facing obstacles one at a time. You can’t be discouraged. That’s not to say that you can’t get discouraged, but you can’t allow those challenges to make you give up.
I try to serve as a role model in my community for younger people. To me, that means being someone who demonstrates that dreams can be realized. It requires a lot of giving of yourself, taking time to listen and guide. Every day is a brand-new day to create a pathway. You create those pathways by being a part of the community, by serving, trying to understand and being politically active.
It is important to have people to look up to. There are so many sheroes in my life — Harriet Tubman and Mother Teresa, to name a few. These women have done phenomenal things to help others. I watched or read about their lives and they became my sheroes. I watched my mother, a single parent who struggled to rear three children. She is the single most heroic person to me.
The time outside of my job is spent on projects and committees. One of my biggest personal challenges is not knowing when to say no. I’ve neglected myself sometimes in the interest of the projects I’m involved in. My life is about continuing the journey to assure that everyone has access to quality health care. It’s a job, but at the same time, it’s not a job because I enjoy doing what I’m doing. My job is my work and also my life.
I spend lots of time with my family as well. My youngest grandchild is now 18 and preparing to go off to college. Of my five children, four of them are local. We can get to each other within 20 minutes. The other one lives in Indianapolis, which is also just a stone’s throw away. I’ve been blessed in that way. They’ve been a part of my life even as adults. And the most blessed thing to happen to me is that now I have three daughters-in-law and two sons-in-law, and I love them all dearly. Certainly, we’re not the perfect family, but we never had any major disconnects. It’s always been respectful. That’s been stabilizing, too, our ability to maintain that close relationship with my children and their families.
My greatest accomplishment was meeting the man who became the love of my life, having five children, all of whom are still in my life, and having eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
On the professional side, I didn’t know a thing about building a health center. I never even thought about what I would do once my children grew up and became independent. I built this health care system that I’m very proud of and that has lasted 50 years. I have been a productive member of a community in Greater Cincinnati, and I know that I have helped to provide services. I’ve been a listening ear. I think I’ve been a role model to some young people. Those are the things I’m proud of.
Illustrations by Marion Kadi.