On Saturday, January 17, 2010, I walked into Slimmons for the very first time. I had met Richard Simmons a week and a half prior, and he had more or less twisted my arm into taking one of his aerobics classes. I was over 400 pounds, and very nervous about the class.
As I waited in the lobby for some friends that were on their way, an energetic older woman approached me. She had a big, warm smile, and perfect hair and make-up. “Welcome, dear, I’m Gerry. Is this your first time?” She made me feel instantly at ease. “You’re going to love it, dear. Richard is a doll.”
She was right. I quickly fell in love with Slimmons, and spent countless hours taking classes there. Gerry grew to be a very special friend.
Gerry Sinclair passed away yesterday, after a brief bout with pneumonia. She was 96 years old. In addition to being my friend, she was, and will forever be, one of my biggest role models.
I started taking classes at Slimmons because of Richard, but the friends I made there were a huge reason why I kept coming back. Gerry epitomized what made that place so great: she was overflowing with unconditional love and positivity, brimming with light and joy, an unending source of happiness.
I watched Gerry like a hawk during my first few classes, because she motivated me. At 400 pounds, leg lifts, jumping jacks and grapevines weren’t easy, and every time I felt myself struggling, I would look over at her, arms in the air, laughing and smiling, and it’d think “Damn it. If that 88-year-old woman can do this, so can I.”
The more I watched her, the more I realized how central she was in the Slimmons community. Everyone knew her, and she knew everyone. She welcomed everyone into that room with effortless grace and charm. She adored Richard, and embodied his messages of self-love, compassion, and kindness. Everyone called her GG, a nickname she gave herself, which stood for ‘Grandma Gorgeous.’ She considered all of us to be her family, and we embraced that love and acceptance, and returned it.
I got to know Gerry more and more during that first year, and she was one of my most vocal cheerleaders as I started losing weight and embracing a healthier way of life. She began telling people she was the president of my fan club. She never missed an opportunity to compliment my looks (a compliment I would always return), and would brag to anyone that would listen that she saw things in me that even I hadn’t realized when I was heavy. “He didn’t know he was handsome, but I knew!”
Some of the classes Richard taught had well over 100 students, dancing elbow to elbow, packed in like sardines. Soon, I made sure to dance right next to Gerry, or right behind her. She felt safer in that crowded room with me nearby, and making sure Gerry was comfortable was a task I was happy to provide.
Gerry always insisted I call my mother and stay close with my family, and always asked about my trips to visit my parents and siblings. She was especially tickled to meet my mother, when I brought her to a class, and I’m sure I got bright red in the face as she gushed on and on about me.
As much fun as it was to be around Gerry, I also quickly realized how much I admired and looked up to her. She began exercising in her early 40s, and kept it up for over 50 years. Her fitness journey began by taking Jack LaLanne’s classes, then Jane Fonda’s classes (she also used to be Jane’s neighbor, too), and then she took Richard’s classes for decades. Most recently, she was working with a personal trainer, up until the week she passed.
Gerry understood the importance of taking care of oneself, and never in a restricting way. She always left room for dessert. She kept active, doing things she loved. She ate what she wanted, in moderation. She surrounded herself with people she loved and adored, and lived a long, full, joyful life. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh.
I feel so lucky and honored that my friendship with Gerry continued, even after Richard stopped teaching, and then after Slimmons closed. She was always happy to chat on the phone for a few minutes, and I would see her for an occasional lunch or dinner. There were a couple times during the last few months where I was able to join her and her trainer during their workouts, and then stayed after to catch up and chat.
Gerry’s final illness was brief, and from what I’ve heard, peaceful. It sounds like she didn’t suffer much, and I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that I have wonderful memories of the last time I saw Gerry, and they’re from last week.
A week ago, I was invited to a birthday dinner for a friend, and Gerry came, too, impeccably dressed, coiffed, and swimming in jewelry. There were around ten of us total, sitting around a couple tables in the very back of The Abbey, a famous restaurant and bar in West Hollywood. I spent the evening sitting by Gerry’s side in a booth, and she had a marvelous time. She ate a patty melt and sweet potato fries, enjoyed some birthday cake, and laughed and talked with all her friends. She was present. She was with it. There was nothing to suggest that, only six days later, she would leave us for good.
At the end of the evening, I escorted her through the restaurant and to the curb, and her grin was ear-to-ear the entire time. She emanated elegance and sophistication, even from behind a walker, and she was stopped by a stranger, who complimented her jeweled jacket. We met Virgine, her caretaker, on the sidewalk, who had already pulled up the car (and argued with a Sheriff about whether or not she could wait there). I gave Gerry a big hug and kiss, and helped her into the passenger side of her Lexus, although, truth be told, she didn’t need any help at all. A few of us watched as the car turned the corner onto Santa Monica Boulevard and out of sight.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the time I got to spend with Gerry. I’ve always valued my friendship with Gerry very highly, and about a year or two ago, I started hearing things from mutual friends that suggested how much she valued our friendship too. Gerry’s ability to remember names and faces started to slip, but she always remembered mine, and always asked others about me. She never hid her fondness for me, to the point where our friends, lovingly and jokingly, referred to me as her boyfriend. People would joke that one surefire way to get Gerry to show up somewhere was if she knew I’d be there too.
I never quite knew, in those moments, how to respond to comments like that. I’m sure there was plenty of blushing on my part. I’m still not sure I know how to respond. It really is quite something to hear evidence, again and again, of the impact you have on someone’s life, but the truth is that I’ve been overwhelmed, for years, by the impact she’s had on mine.
One year after Gerry came into my life, my last remaining grandparent, Millie, passed away. Maybe this was naive, but I never expected to have such a strong bond with someone of that generation, apart from my grandparents. Gerry shattered that expectation.
How lucky I am that one of the most powerful friendships I’ve had over the past few years was with a woman in her nineties, almost 60 years older than me. I am so grateful I was open to receiving all the gifts of friendship, love and support that she offered, because every moment I spent with Gerry truly was a gift.
Gerry was a class act and a force of nature, all rolled into one. She was a woman that constantly reminded me to look at the big picture and celebrate my accomplishments. She wouldn’t allow a single moment of self-doubt. She approached every situation with love and kindness. I’ve learned so much from her. And I will continue to learn from her, the example she set, and the amazing life she lived.
I love you, Gerry!
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