What do you call a group of retired physicians, attorneys, ministers, educators, authors, diplomats and business owners who chat over breakfast twice a month?
The men call themselves “geezers.” Just don’t confuse these “geezers” with the dictionary definition (“a queer, odd, or eccentric person, used especially of elderly men”). When these geezers get together, the talk’s electric, and no subject is taboo (well, except one - sports). It ranges from science and politics to personal experiences and causes, with some poetry or wry jokes thrown in.
“Geezers” wasn’t their first choice of names. Member Darrell Spencer of Black Mountain, a retired assistant state superintendent of public education and the group’s unofficial historian, said the group had considered “Romeos,” “Wizened Windbreakers” and even “Old Farts.” But, by formal vote in 2013, they became “Geezers.”
Retired Foreign Service officer Allan Dean of Swannanoa said he helped start what was then the Breakfast Club in 1990. Spencer added that, as membership (by invitation only) increased, the Geezers outgrew gathering places – the former Shoney’s in Oteen, the J&S Cafeteria at River Ridge, the Parkway Café in Oteen, the Six Pack Smoke Stack in Swannanoa, and the Front Porch (now closed) and Monte Vista Hotel, both in Black Mountain - before ending up at Cragmont Assembly on North Fork Road.
“We have closed the best restaurants in Buncombe County,” Spencer said wryly.
Dean presides over most of the meetings, wielding not a gavel but a three-minute egg timer (each member has three minutes to have his say before he must yield to the next member). To ensure that each member gets his say, lengthy discussions on any one topic are discouraged.
Dean enjoys the gatherings because of “the serious professionalism shared, spiced with sophisticated jokes,” he said. “We tend to avoid aggressive politicking (and) combative debate. We respectfully allow members to speak their minds.”
(The joke wasn’t too sophisticated, but before the start of a recent meeting, retired Black Mountain dentist Tom Cannon tried surprising Dean by hanging a “Happy 98th Birthday” banner in the room. However, when Dean walked in and saw the banner, he said, “But I’m only 97!”)
Topics aired run the gamut, from nuclear power plant risks to “things that will disappear in your lifetime” (think carbon paper, hotel keys and land line phones). They have run from the Women’s Marches in January (several members participated) to Trump’s first few weeks in office.
The latter has dominated discussions in recent weeks and has ranged from poetry (Cannon read a portion of “Let America Be America Again,” written in 1935 by Langston Hughes) to analysis (Harry Petrequin of Black Mountain broached the “mental state” issue by describing symptoms of various diagnoses, ranging from narcissism to Antisocial Personality Disorder). At one recent gathering, Asheville resident Charlie Davidson, a retired minister and pastoral counselor, drew pointed comparisons of Trump to Adolph Hitler, urging members to read “The Dictator’s Playbook” by Islam Karimov and “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Haffner.
But, spirited discussions notwithstanding, the twice-monthly get-togethers are as much about camaraderie as they are about staying involved.
“Men tend to have fewer relationships than women,” noted Kent Logan of Black Mountain, who retired from a career in special education focusing on students with significant disabilities. Since moving from Atlanta in 2011, he made sure “my life included conversations with men,” adding somewhat wryly, “especially conversations that are not about sports.”
Retired journalist David Ogron, a Swannanoa resident for almost 20 years, said the gatherings are “fun, entertaining and educational due to the wide variety of backgrounds among members plus the friendly, open atmosphere that invites members to freely share thoughts, ideas, information and insights.”
Jack Allison of Asheville is a retired academic emergency physician and chief of staff at Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville, and 2015 recipient of The Order of Long Leaf Pine, the state’s highest honor. The gatherings are “quite important,” he said, because of the “spirited discussions and sharing of issues, from the serious to the inane.”
Former seminary professor and bird-lover James Poling of Black Mountain said Geezers is important “because there are so many individuals who understand national and global issues, and because we commiserate on the challenges of aging for men.”
David Madden of Black Mountain, a writer-in-residence at Louisiana State University for 41 years and a novelist and historian, has been a member for three years. He’s impressed “by the backgrounds and intelligence of the members (and) their wide range of interests,” he said “… I can go away feeling my time away from my writing has been well-spent.”
J.D. Rose of Black Mountain was a career public relations professional whose “checkered career” ranged from being press secretary to former Utah Gov. Calvin Rampton to administratore delegato for the Aga Khan’s Costa Smeralda resort in Sardinia, Italy.
When he left that position, Rose sailed across the Mediterranean and Atlantic in his 32-foot sloop to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. Geezers, he said, “gives me intellectual and moral stimulation - and (gets me) out of the house.”
Petrequin, who retired after three decades with the U.S. State Department diplomat, enjoys “the conversation, seasoned with good (and bad) jokes,” he said. “I still have a motion pending for years that we meet at a later hour,” he said wryly. “Nevertheless, I roll out (of bed) on these cold winter mornings, which, in itself, is a strong endorsement of our group.”
Asked to recall his most memorable gathering, he replied, tongue firmly planted in cheek, “you’re asking a Geezer to recall something from memory?”