It’s always difficult to find good housing, especially for senior citizens. And for LGBT seniors, it can be a Herculean task. Here in Philadelphia we’re lucky to have the John C. Anderson Apartments which are welcoming to LGBTQ seniors, but what about those folks/seniors who aren’t interested in city living? This week we spoke to Robert “Bob” Ferguson and Richard “Dick” Foggio, long term partners who found love and lodging in the suburbs and wanted to share it with others. Due to hearing issues, Bob took the lead in answering questions.
So tell me a little about yourselves.
We have been partners for 59 years. We are married…to each other. Dick had been previously married to a woman and has two sons and five grandchildren. I’m a retired architect and Dick is a retired chemist. We both spent our working careers at Smith, Kline and French. When we were offered a chance to jump ship and retire early, we did. The main reason was that we had several properties, mostly up and down the Atlantic coast to work on and it gave us a chance to focus on building. It was a second business for us, we would build and sell. Let’s see, we lived in Bucks county for two dozen years which was life changing for us. We both got very involved in land conservation and in our time working with the Land Trust of Bucks County, I’m proud to say that we were able to help preserve almost 5,000 acres!
Yes, unfortunately we had a few problems that we had to deal with. I had a stroke, which set me back some but what really set us back was that we were in a head on auto accident, hit by a drunk driver. He died and we spent many months in rehab. We’d been living on a 12 acre property, which we took care of on our own but after that we realized we would no longer be able to cut lawns and wash windows, and we needed to think about a retirement community. Dick is 89 and I am 82. We knew that things were changing and we were going to have to make a decision, which we did. We proceeded to interview perhaps 8 different retirement communities in the area and we found Foulkeways at Gwynedd. It’s Quaker affiliated and it fits us to a T. We’ve been here for four and a half years and we love it.
Did you have any apprehension being a gay couple?
Well, we weren’t sure what was going to happen. We’ve faced discrimination previously in our lives, but to our surprise and delight, we’ve been welcomed here and made friends. We have a whole cadre of friends in Bucks County, so we weren’t really looking to meet new people, but we have and many of them have become quite good friends. We play cards, have dinners together and share stories.There are over 400 folks here and we’ve found so many interesting and friendly people here, it’s wonderful. We’ve been adopted by everyone and are lovingly referred to as “The Boys”. Are you familiar with the term, “Friends of Dorothy?”
I am indeed.
Well, we had two “Friends of Dorothy” parties here to introduce gay friends who may be thinking about moving here to people who have been living here and it was fun. It seemed like all the straight people were bursting to tell us, “I have a gay son” or “I have grandkids who are gay!” It was not quite bragging, but they were very proud to tell us, which is something that we wouldn’t have expected in the past. It was very welcoming.
Where are you originally from Bob?
I was raised in Montgomery county and Dick is from Newark, New Jersey, but moved to Flourtown, not far from here, to raise his family.
How did you meet?
Well, at the time Dick’s wife was interested in politics so she spent a lot of time pursuing that and Dick was traveling for work, so I was the babysitter. [Laughing] And that’s how we met!
Scandalous! How did it evolve?
I had a fiancé and we used to double date with Dick and his wife. We’d go to the Academy of Music to see the orchestra or the ballet, so we got to know each other socially outside of the babysitting. Dick was a late bloomer. I was seven years younger but I knew how I felt inside. I knew from a young age that I was interested in men.
But still had to get engaged…
Well, I never went through with it but that’s a whole other story!
So what happened when the families found out?
It was difficult. Dick and his former wife went for therapy and the counselor said to his wife, “You have to realize that you’re married to a homosexual.” She was willing to stay married and let him have his freedom, but he didn’t want that. He thought it wouldn’t be good for the children or for him or his wife.
What was your family like Bob?
My dad was an electrical engineer. He graduated from Drexel and spent his entire career at one company. My mom was very involved in things like the PTA and Cub Scouts. Quite frankly, she was a leader and should have been able to do more, but she was taking care of me and my brother and the family. But she got out and about by being involved in the community. In Dick’s case, he’s a city kid. He was born in Newark, NJ and his dad worked his entire career for Ford Motor Company. His dad was born in Italy, so Dick is first generation. The family joke is that his dad worked for Ford his entire working life but he never owned a car or had a driver’s license! He’s also the only member of the immediate family that went to college. He had three sisters and later found out that two of them were hurt that they didn’t get the same opportunity, but there wasn’t enough money. His mother had saved to send him but that was all they could afford. And in those days, the nonsense was that the boys had to go to school to get good jobs and the girls would get married.
You mentioned earlier that you’ve faced discrimination. How so?
Years ago, when we wanted to buy property in Cape May, they started changing rules, like no speedo bathing suits, or if you went into the local bar, “The Ugly Mug”, they wouldn’t serve two men coming in together, you had to have a woman with you. It was things like that, which is how we ended up in Avalon and Stone Harbor. Oh yes, we were shopping for a place for Dick to live after he separated, we looked at places in Germantown and Chestnut Hill and as soon as they saw it was two men, all sorts of roadblocks went up. On one occasion we met with a financial planner and when he saw that we were leaving our estates to each other he refused to have anything to do with us. So things like that and more blatant things like being out walking and having people yell out “F%#ing queer!” Fortunately, we never experienced any problems at work, never anything in Bucks County and we have never experienced anything negative here at Foulkeways.
Tell me about the homes you designed.
Well, we were both working at Smith Kline which was at 15th and Spring Garden, I was the Director of Facilities and Dick was the Director of Pharmaceutical Patents. We got to know the area mostly while looking for parking, and we started buying property there. The architect in me couldn’t leave well enough alone, so I started remodeling them, exposing brick walls, putting on additions, building sundecks and touches like circular staircases, etc. It was a sideline business that kept us busy on weekends. I also was fortunate enough to grow up with a family that used to vacation in Stone Harbor, NJ. My mother always wanted to buy a place instead of renting, but we couldn’t afford it. I didn’t come from a wealthy family, but later Dick and I were able to start purchasing land and built our own houses – some for the family, some we sold and it became another business. And it kept us healthy and active. [Dick chimes in:] And off the streets!
What was the most interesting patent you worked on Dick?
Tagamet, it’s to combat gastric reflux. It became a very popular and profitable medicine, the trade name is Zantax. It’s rewarding to create something that can help people.
Bob, what was yout favorite accomplishment as an architect?
Oh gosh, I designed perhaps two dozen beach homes along the coastal line which was very rewarding. When we moved to Bucks County we bought a 60 acre farm that had been abandoned. It took seven years to put Humpty Dumpty back together, but it became a showplace with a beautiful barn where we would host fundraisers, square dances, dinners, and lectures. It was a lot of fun. At one point we got a call from HRC because they wanted to get more women involved so we got in touch with some lesbian friends in Germantown and did a big event with the comedian Judy Gold. I’m proud to say we signed up over 90 new women members and raised over $10,000 for the HRC.
That’s great! What’s your best celebrity encounter?
Our claim to fame is that we had a house in Palm Springs and our next-door neighbor was Cheryl Crane. Cheryl Crane is the only child of actress Lana Turner.
I read her biography, “Detour.” When she was a kid she killed her mother’s boyfriend, Johnny Stump something, during a “domestic struggle.” If I recall she was acquitted of all charges.
[Laughing] Yes, he fell on the knife 14 times. She’s never said so, but there are rumors that she took the blame but it was actually her mother who killed him.
That makes sense.
Yes, she’s now a real estate broker and we bought our house through her. We used to see all sorts of movie stars at her house. But after a while we needed to sell the house so that we could be closer to my parents as they were getting older. We asked Cheryl to handle the sale. Usually when she was about to show the house, she’d let us know and we’d go for a half hour walk so the client could check out the house. One day she called and said, I have a woman who is determined to buy your house and she wants to come by now. I told her to give us a minute to get out and she said, “No, she wants to meet you. Go open the door.” So I did and this woman walked in and put her arms around me and proclaimed, “I love your house and I want to buy it!” It was Lily Tomlin.
It was! And we’ve stayed in touch, every time she’s in town she sends us tickets to her show and invites us backstage.
How are you handling quarantine? Have you driven each other crazy?
No, we’re hooked at the hip, we do everything together. Back in the day, we would even schedule business trips so that when Dick went to the patent office in DC, I’d try to set up visits to our facilities there at the same time. We’ve been together for 59 years and we’re together 24/7. Our friends say they don’t know how we do it without separations, but we enjoy each other immensely. Even in lockdown, we’ve been enjoying hikes together, we read a lot and yesterday we took a picnic basket and met some friends in Valley Forge Park for a socially distanced picnic.
You two are connected.
I’ll tell you a funny story. Working on our wills, we were advised by a lawyer that the best thing to do was to adopt one another for inheritance and tax purposes. Dick’s parents had passed, so I adopted Dick. So essentially, I was becoming his father! When we went to orphan’s court, it was mostly parents holding the hands of the kids they were adopting so people could not help studying us to try to figure out what we were up to. We were actually the first couple in Bucks County to do what became a safeguard for a lot of gay couples. Later on when marriage became legal we had to go back to court. Our close friend Ron Strouse, the Mayor of Doylestown and the only openly gay mayor in Pennsylvania, he came with us and spoke to the judge. He explained that we needed to get the adoption vacated so we could get married. The judge was really nice about it and said that he was happy to vacate it so that he wouldn’t have to see a headline in the Inquirer stating, “Father Marries Son!” We then got married in the Mayor’s garden on the 55th anniversary of our meeting, July 26th, 2016.
That’s a great story. What do you like to do for fun?
I’m a heavy reader and I like to read a couple of books a week. So I’m a frequent visitor to the library here. It’s a two story building which really appealed to me when we saw the place. Also, the campus here is 130 acres. It’s well maintained and I’m the chair of the gardening committee. We do everything we can to foster natural species of plants though it’s an ongoing battle with the deer. It’s hard to believe but we have over 100 committees and activities for everything from flower arranging to current affairs discussion groups. We’re a couple, but for others who are single, they never have to feel alone.
Well dang, I want to move there now! It sounds like they have everything.
They do! Fortunately, because we’re both in pretty good health, we haven’t really needed any medical care, but they do semi-annual checkups here, cognitive reviews and vaccinations right on site. Pretty much everything you need is on site. There’s a bank, a pharmacy, a library, fitness center, beauty salon, gardens, tennis courts, art studio, walking trails. Before the virus hit we had regularly scheduled lectures and movies…I could go on. They really make sure to keep us physically and mentally active. You never have to leave the campus unless you choose to. But the best thing is the people, both the other residents and the staff. It’s a community of interesting people who genuinely care about each other.
Well, I’m going to add one more job to your resume. Cheerleader!