In Fabulous 5, six — yes, six — ladies form lasting friendships
September 13, 2011
By Emily Baer
In 1994, Marilyn Davis invited to her home four fellow Providence Marianwood nurses who, like herself, were approaching retirement. It was the first meeting of the Fabulous Five.
Since then, the group (now comprised of six women) have met regularly to laugh about old times and support each other as they confront the trials of growing older.
With only a couple days’ notice, four of the six met at Marilyn Boone’s house in Issaquah for an interview. The only two missing were Davis, who now lives in Australia, and Diana Millikan, who lives on Guemes Island.
To clarify, the Fabulous Five met in the apartment behind the 97-year-old house Boone bought in 1977. “The worst house in town” is what she called it. Boone became a self-taught carpenter and electrician. She fixed up her new home on her own — all the while raising three children and working as a nurse — until she met her husband.
“He was a retired engineer and he just loved the fact that I had two very old houses that needed redoing,” she said.
Boone was an evening nurse and her “seven-day-on, seven-day-off” schedule allowed her to spend time with the love of her life at the Case Inlet beach house she inherited in 1991.
“I worked until I was 75,” she said, her eyes glistening with tears. “I quit four years ago, just in time to take care of an old man, my husband, while he died.”
Boone had not only her family to lean on as she mourned the loss of her husband, but also the five women who she had supported through similarly painful experiences.
Facing the future together
“I think when we’re together we can share what we’re really feeling,” said Colleen Buck, a member of the group. “We can talk about real life things, about dying and disability. We share thoughts about death and what we have to face in the future.”
While the women relate to each other on many levels, their similarity in age and shared commitment to nursing is what brought them together.
“When we were young, women didn’t have much choice,” group member Mary Ann Knowles said. “Women were teachers, nurses or secretaries. I grew up thinking I was going to become a nurse. Not many people went to college at our age, but we all went.”
Originally from New York, she received her nursing degree at the College of Mount St. Vincent’s in 1953 before driving to San Francisco, where she met her husband. In the 1960s, Knowles’ husband, who worked for ITE Circuit Breaker, was transferred to Bellevue. There, the couple added five more children to their clan of two.
In 1994, after eight years of working at Providence Marianwood, she retired. A year later, she began taking classes at Seattle University, where she earned a master’s degree in pastoral education.
Like Knowles, Buck raised seven children with her husband, the director of finance at The Boeing Co. They married when she was only 18.
“I was kind of a late bloomer into nursing, because I didn’t go to college until my youngest was going into kindergarten,” she said. “I eventually got my associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and geriatric nurse practitioner certificate from the University of Washington in 1981.”
Jo Ann Gazdik took quite a different path, yet somehow ended up at Marianwood with the rest of the crew. She grew up in Chicago, but quickly became an experienced traveler. After graduating from Evangelical School of Nursing (located just outside of Chicago) in 1967, she put her nursing degree to work for the Peace Corps in Kenya, and then spent six months travelling the world with friends.
She graduated from Seattle University in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science in nursing. She has been teaching nursing at Bellevue College since December 2003. She has been the program coordinator since 2004.
‘We sure did laugh’
While the Fabulous Five (which is what they still call themselves) have encouraged each other through surgeries, retirement, marriages and the deaths of husbands and children, their conversation is not limited to topics of a tragic nature, nor do their meetings consist only of chitchat.
They ride bikes to each other’s houses, go to plays together, invite each other to their vacation homes, and coordinate lunches to meet their husbands and kids. Gazdik and Boone and Knowles even visited Davis in Australia.
Boone recalled their most recent gathering — a lunch date that turned into an all-day event.
“We did nothing but laugh and talk from 11:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.,” she said. “We talked about funny things that happened at Marianwood and I don’t know what else, but we sure did laugh. We got served random things because we’re hard of hearing.”
In Boone’s apartment, those of the Fabulous Five who were present laughed as they described the way Davis — the woman responsible for all of the fabulousness — met her Australian husband.
Davis grew up in Worcestshire, Mass., married and had two children in Tennessee and later was divorced. She moved to California before landing at Providence Marianwood.
“She has always been outspoken and had been a single woman for almost 30 years,” Boone said. “She always said, ‘I do not need a man in my life.’”
Ten years ago, Davis met an Australian man on an Internet dating website.
“When she told us about this nice guy she’d met on the Internet, it scared us all to death,” Boone said. “But he’s a really nice guy.”
Davis visited her Internet love and they married in the United States. They then moved to Australia.
Overlapping shifts, friendships
The ladies described their sixth member, Diana Millikan, as “an absolutely lovely, elegant English lady.” Buck said she was a child living in England during the World War II London bombing and carried horrible memories of the war.
“She was sent away to the country to live with relatives,” Buck said. “ She used to carry candy bars in the gas mask she had to carry back and forth to school.”
Millikan went to nursing school in England. She had four children with her first husband when she moved to the United States. She is a cancer survivor four times over and is “a great photographer of nature,” according to her friends.
Somehow, all six women’s paths serendipitously intertwined at Providence Marianwood.
Their friendship developed during overlapping nursing shifts. Knowles, Gazdik, Boone, Buck, Davis and Millikan were Providence Marianwood nurses from 1986 to 1994, 1990 to 2003, 1986 to 2007, 1986 to 1995, 1987 to 1997, and 1986 to 1990, respectively. Combined, they gave a total of 65 years to the Issaquah nursing home.
Working as geriatric nurses provided the women with a preview of the aging process, but it also gave them patience and tolerance, they said.
“We gave each other space to talk and everybody listened,” Buck said. “I’ve always felt very respected and listened to.”
The Fab Five share numerous qualities and interests, yet no two women have the same story. No matter what the instance, they lend each other a hand or a shoulder and always a smile.
Though lately family illnesses and Davis’ move to Australia have precluded the Fab Five from meeting as often as they would like, they still manage to see each other.
“In every group there is one drawstring that keeps us all together,” Buck said. “It’s Marilyn Boone. She keeps in contact. When she calls, we come — spur of the moment.”