If you have been involved in West Hollywood for any number of years you knew of Jeanne Dobrin. Jeanne is a legend. Jeanne fought for West Hollywood for over 30 years. She loved West Hollywood and rarely missed a Planning Commission or City Council meeting. She spoke truth to power and was fervent in her passion for all things West Hollywood.
Jeanne passed last week at the age of 99 years old. She lived on Cynthia Drive up until the age of 97. Others can elaborate on the politics and the wins and the losses. This is a story of community filled with love where people gave of themselves despite the politics of the day to take care of a neighbor. But this is the reality of a city where people have to leave to die because there are not enough facilities for seniors.
I first met Jeanne 10 years ago as she was turning 90 years old. My shop on Santa Monica Boulevard and the issues of the day led me to the Council chambers. Jeanne loved me when I was complaining about the gum on the sidewalks. She hated me when I was fighting for the rainbow flag on City Hall. We started a new friendship.
One day Jeanne invited me over to her condo to ask my help in selling a chandelier. She showed me around her apartment. Every room filled with boxes of Planning Commission and City Council agendas dating back 20 years. Jeanne was a painter and she loved to paint flowers. Her walls were adorned with beautiful works of art that came from her heart.
Many of the people I knew were involved in helping Jeanne age in place. First and foremost was John Altschul. John is one of the founding fathers of our city, the longest serving planning commissioner in history, a member of the Chamber of Commerce board of governors. Jeanne trusted John with her life. Every Sunday for years and years John would visit Jeanne to take care of her mail and personal business. John Altschul took care of Jeanne until the very end. It wasn’t easy. Being a caregiver is a tough job. John’s loyalty never ceased. No matter how he struggled John never lost sight of Jeanne. Mr. Altschul you are the noblest of men. You’re free now. You’re free now.
Everybody was helping out with something. If Jeanne’s computer went down, Lauren Meister came over to help. If there was something that needed attention Manny Rodriguez could always be counted to lend a hand.
Tracy Benson and her daughter Brittany were neighbors and visited Jeanne twice a week all these past years. Tracy was with Jeanne when she passed. There is no better love of community than a neighbor taking care of a neighbor the way Tracy looked after Jeanne.
Jeanne loved Mayor John D’Amico. Jeanne would sit at the Council Chambers often disrupting the meeting but at the end of the night there was one person waiting to drive her home. John D’Amico. Despite his long day and the City Council meeting till late hours of the night, Mayor D’Amico would drive Jeanne Dobrin home, walk her upstairs and make sure she was settled. That’s public service. Mayor D’Amico continued to care for Jeanne even after she moved out of the city.
It seemed like many people were pitching in to help Jeanne. I wanted to help too. Jeanne loved the 99-Cent Store so for a few years we would go shopping. She went down every aisle. We went to Macy’s for new shoes, and Jeanne was a smart coupon clipping shopper. I’m partially sighted myself and couldn’t always handle it all. So, I enlisted my friends Jim and Tony and even Tom DeMille lent a hand so we could all make sure Jeanne had her 99 Cent Store trips. We had fun and many tender moments. Everybody was glad to pitch in.
Victor Olmencheko was a best friend to Jeanne, often taking her to dinner. Allegra Allison would help to organize Jeanne’s birthday party and was always there if needed. Elyse Eisenberg offered her support. Richard Maggio cut and dyed her hair for years and years. Steve Martin was a loving attentive friend. James Mills was also a very helpful friend during Jeanne’s last years. So many of you who helped who deserve thanks.
Upon receiving the call from John Altschul that Jeanne had passed I asked if could relay it to the rest of our Friday night dinner posse….
Upon calling Mike Zanella.. I said.. “sorry it’s not good news”…he knew and said…”Jeanne passed.”
Mike loved Jeanne too. He noted that she looked after West Hollywood like it was her own child ,but when it came time for her to die West Hollywood had no place for her. Mike’s voice elevated and then he exclaimed “Do you know how traumatic it is for a person in their 80’s or 90’s to be shipped out of their city when they are ready to die?”
His passion echoed one of the biggest issues facing our seniors because we have few aging in place or assisted living facilities in West Hollywood.
So the point of this story is that we can do better. “Aging in place” is a myth if we cannot partner with a developer or hospital or nursing home to create a state of the art assisted living facility / senior living center within West Hollywood. We have the kindness and the compassion, and it would be nice if there was someplace local for an elderly person in their last year to be part of the community in which they spent their life.
Jeanne was special and she had assets to allow her to move into the Belmont on Highland. But for many of you, many of us, we will not be able to live our final years in West Hollywood. Our community is rich in love but we are failing to find solutions to aging in place. Many senior’s such as Jeanne Dobrin or Ric Rickle’s and others had to leave the city they built and loved just when they needed its comfort the most.
We can do better. We need to do as much for seniors as we do for other segments of our diverse population.. We need to support our senior residents with the same commitment as other groups who get a majority of our social services funding. There is no cure for getting old. If we don’t build a bridge for seniors to age in place all of us will have to leave West Hollywood in the last years of our life.
If we can use our demographics to lure media, design, and tech companies then we must consider the long term health care needs of our residents too.