published Sunday, August 25th, 2013

Life: an Expo for Boomers and Seniors offers services, 'Brady Bunch' star

Florence Henderson, left, signs a Brady Bunch purse for Kathy Gordon Saturday during the Life Expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Florence Henderson, left, signs a Brady Bunch purse for Kathy Gordon Saturday during the Life Expo at the Chattanooga Convention Center.
Photo by Angela Lewis.

Henderson's best quotes from Saturday:

On advertisers overlooking seniors: "They forget: We are the ones with all the money."

On working hard: "It takes humility; sometimes you have to do jobs you didn't necessarily want to do."

On adapting in order to succeed: "You've got to be humble. You've got to be flexible. If I were not flexible, I still wouldn't be here."

On first reading for "The Brady Bunch": "I have to admit, I wasn't all that excited."

On never being too old for kids: "Tonight may be the night, Mabel!"

On aging: "If you didn't know how old you were, how old would you be?"

"Do whatever you feel like doing ... as long as you don't hurt yourself or anyone else."

California is an awful long way away, and Kathy Gordon thinks she may never get there in her lifetime. That's tough, because most of the stars of her favorite show, "The Brady Bunch," live out that way.

But around a month ago, Gordon saw an ad for Life: an Expo for Boomers and Seniors in her morning newspaper. And the ad said Florence Henderson -- Carol Brady -- was going to be the celebrity speaker.

"I said, 'I've got to go!'" the Chattanooga resident said Saturday.

She presented a "Brady Bunch" purse bought at Northgate Mall four years ago to Florence Henderson to sign Saturday. Afterward, she remembers what most others did after meeting the 79-year-old superstar.

She's so small. She's so sweet. She's funny!

Times Free Press Marketing Manager Lyndsi Lane said Saturday that hosting Henderson was an absolute win for the event.

"It was a joy to have Florence Henderson in Chattanooga. She was everything we thought she would be and more."

Henderson anchored the Life expo Saturday aimed at area baby boomers and seniors. In an exclusive interview with the Times Free Press, Henderson said her perennial success is the result of old-fashion edhard work and empathy.

"I have always tried to keep a clear head and a warm heart and a very high work ethic," she said.

"It's all about trust and honesty," even in a business famous for its dog-eat-dog politics.

Henderson wove her Catholic faith into the speech she gave to the expo crowd.

She spun stories of her life, with its poor beginnings as the daughter of a Depression-era sharecropper, through a nervous audition for the famed Broadway composers Rodgers and Hammerstein and touching on 22 years as the spokeswoman for Wesson cooking oil -- good for more than frying chicken, apparently.

Henderson said as a senior in today's world, she sees some benefits and some things that simply bug her.

"I really wish advertisers would be more aware of our age group," she said. Today's television programming caters to middle-aged and young adults, she said; more and more, TV for older Americans is disappearing.

But things aren't all bad. Henderson said during her short time in Chattanooga -- Saturday was her first-ever visit -- she met a man who is 90. Finding people that age and older is a growing trend, she said, thanks to better medical technology and increased awareness of disorders and diseases.

Some of those benefits were displayed Saturday by Life expo vendors. LifeCare Centers of America, a Cleveland-based chain of assisted living, rehabilitation and nursing home facilities, had eight area locations represented and three free tests available: blood pressure, balance and cognitive memory.

"We're here to be a service," said Ginger Crawford, Ooltewah facility representative.

Other health service providers such as HealthSpring and Beltone were on hand with advice on matters from hearing aids to Medicare Advantage counseling. There were also games, products for sale and dozens of other area businesses offering everything from funeral service advising to cable TV packages.

"The attendees enjoyed visiting the vendor booths, participating in important health screenings, fun activities and all the live entertainment," Lane said Saturday afternoon.

And on top of all that, there was a lot of free stuff, which made Hixson neighbors Doris Condra and Jackie Deabler happy.

"We got free tickets in the paper," said Deabler, a native New Yorker. She and Condra have been coming to the expo for several years and made off Saturday with several cloth bags each, great for grocery shopping, they said.

They remembered Henderson primarily for her famous Brady Bunch role.

"She's a good TV mom," Condra said.

And that distinction carries mixed emotions, Henderson said Saturday. On one hand she loves being associated with motherly love and respect. On the other, it's a reminder that not all American kids have the benefit Marsha, Jan and Cyndi did. That includes Henderson herself.

"Carol Brady was the mother I wish I had," she said Saturday.

So being asked for hugs everywhere she goes and frequently being referred to as Mrs. Brady is okay.

And overcoming an impoverished upbringing has just been part of the journey, not so different from millions of older Americans, especially in this Appalachian region.

Henderson said her mother said something once she's never forgotten. Keep moving, pursue life and people won't pay attention to your flaws, such as a hole in your dress. "It will never be noticed on a galloping horse."

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 as a region business reporter. He is a native of Dayton, Tenn., located 35 miles north of Chattanooga, and he is a fifth-generation Dayton native. Alex came to the Times Free Press as an editorial intern in July 2013. He was previously a correspondent at The Herald-News, located in Dayton, through college and editor-in-chief of the Triangle, Bryan College's student-led media group. Alex was ...

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