Paying It Forward
After 40 years away, Miss Kitty’s son is back, and Tom Proctor is going door to door to repay the kindness shown to his mom while he was gone. By Colin McCandless Photos by Steve Rosamilia
Although he wasn’t technically born on Sullivan’s Island, Tom Proctor likes to quip that he moved there “a day after he was born.” Okay, so maybe it was a few months, but suffice it to say, Proctor spent the bulk of his formative years inhabiting this beautiful stretch of beach. His mom, Kitty, worked at C&S Bank on King Street, and they needed a place to rent when a family friend told them about a Sullivan’s Island duplex.
Proctor recalls a tight-knit community where no one was a stranger. “Being a kid on the island, everyone was a friend,” he says. These were halcyon days for Proctor. He remembers daily strolls to the beach, riding bicycles, sliding down The Mound on a cardboard box, jaunts to the island movie theater and skating rink, and playing in forts — real ones — among other cherished childhood activities.
His true passion then was — and still is — surfing. When I met him, Proctor had just returned from an Ecuadorian surfing trip. His initial foray into riding waves came on Tybee Island near Savannah in 1958, but he started in earnest around 1962, primarily surfing on Isle of Palms. As a teen, he took surfing road trips to Florida and Virginia with close companions he describes as like “brothers and sisters.”
He lived on Sullivan’s until 1970, when he departed for Macon, Georgia, and opened a series of retail stores. Proctor sold the stores to a competitor in 1974 and moved to Denver, where he served as a menswear retail consultant. In 1975, he was hired by Time, Inc., and transferred to Houston. By then he’d married his first wife and they made a home in Houston where Proctor later moved into a global sales position for a privately-owned computer software company, Global Shop Solutions. He’d stay in the role for 37 years before retiring.
Proctor met his second wife Sheryl in 1988, and the couple were married in 1996. The two traveled extensively (and independently) for work given Proctor’s major sales role and his wife, Sheryl’s, position as a Houston-based flight attendant for Continental/United Airlines. Sometimes they would go more than a week at a time without seeing each other or pass in the airport like Boeing 747s in the night.
Beginning in 2000, the couple started visiting Sullivan’s Island whenever they could, taking incrementally longer trips until Proctor’s mother’s deteriorating health led them to sell their place in Houston, and move into her Atlantic Avenue home in 2014.
Proctor recounts the important role East Cooper Meals on Wheels played when Kitty could no longer prepare her own meals. They had delivered to her home from 2005 through 2013 and to Kitty, the human connection was just as vital as the sustenance. “She looked forward to someone coming by every day,” says Proctor. Kitty had owned a restaurant downtown that bore her name, so she formed a lot of bonds with locals. “Everyone knew Miss Kitty,” beams Proctor.
Kitty’s experience inspired Proctor to volunteer with Meals on Wheels as a delivery driver in early 2016. “I wanted to pay it forward,” says Tom. Shortly after he started, Sheryl joined him, and they have teamed up ever since.
“It’s not just a meal,” says Sheryl. “You are checking to make sure they are okay.” The Proctors’ dedication to the cause has not gone unnoticed. “You can tell they both really care. They spend time with the recipients, swap stories, and do so much to brighten the day for someone who otherwise faces a fairly isolated situation,” says East Cooper Meals on Wheels President and CEO George Roberts.
Founded on August 22, 1985, East Cooper Meals on Wheels originated at St. Andrews Church in Mount Pleasant’s Old Village, delivering meals to eight recipients on its launch day. Today, it has a stand-alone building along Highway 17 near Long Point Road, and the organization’s small staff of seven employees depends on a 450-person-strong volunteer labor force to help deliver more than 500 meals a day.
“Tom and Sheryl are amazing friends of East Cooper Meals on Wheels,” says Kelley Chapman, the organization’s Volunteer Manager. “They arrive weekly without fail, rain or shine. If one cannot deliver, the other will arrive ready to serve. Tom and Sheryl have such genuine care for all of our recipients.”
Recipients include those like retired educator Verdell Ger - man, who worked 21 years for Charleston County Schools and has meals delivered twice a week. “It saves me prepping the food,” says German, who volunteered two-and-a-half years as an East Cooper Meals on Wheels packer before knee replacement surgery laid her out. Mostly though she enjoys the people bringing the food, and remarks that she missed Tom last week when he was out of town.
At this week’s visit, German’s husband Marion asks the Proctors how their home remodeling is going, and the four banter like old friends. “They’re like family to us,” says Proctor of their delivery route recipients. “They just appreciate it,” adds Sheryl. “It’s very rewarding. And it’s so little time.”
Meals on Wheels is not based on age or income, says Roberts. In fact, the organization assists anyone who is home - bound and unable to make a meal for themselves, whether due to a permanent disability, or even a temporary situation such as recovering from an injury, surgery or an illness. The average meal costs $3 but is provided free to all recipients.
Since East Cooper Meals on Wheels is privately funded, it depends on individuals and businesses in the community to help supply the resources — namely money and time — to serve those who need meals. “Their support makes all we do possible,” says Roberts.
Another benefit to being consistently and generously com - munity-funded is that there has been no waiting list to receive food since Meals on Wheels opened its doors, according to Chapman. People may also not realize that they deliver more than just meals. Whether it’s bringing pet food to an owner’s furry friends, toting box fans during heat waves or providing smoke detectors, Meals on Wheels makes it happen. The non - profit relies on its volunteers to keep them apprised of client needs, and when one is identified, they quickly address it.
Although he’s only been back home on Sullivan’s for a few years, Proctor has re-embraced the beach lifestyle he adopted as a kid. He’s an avid member of the Carolina Coast Surf Club, Inc. (founded in 1963 and believed to be the nation’s oldest active surf club), and files a daily surf report for the club’s web - site. Proctor has accompanied club surfing trips to Puerto Rico and the annual pilgrimage to Cocoa Beach, Florida.
Proctor relishes spending time volunteering with Meals on Wheels and encourages anyone interested in becoming involved to explore the varied opportunities available. “You’re taking one and a half hours of your time to have an incredible time,” he says.