Seniors & Aging

Retired union rep organizes writing group at Leopold Retirement Residence

J. Kaye Faulkner didn’t become interested in reading until after high school, and wasn’t consistently involved in writing until he was in his early 60s. Now, at age 83, he has recently published the revised edition of his lively, perceptive memoir, and last summer he started a writing group soon after he moved to The Leopold Retirement Residence in downtown Bellingham.

“I’m the youngest in our writing group,” he says. “That surprised me.”

Faulkner and his wife of 33 years, Mollie Faulkner, returned to Bellingham in 1993 for retirement, although he has continuously owned homes here since first arriving in 1962. Once back, he quickly found a writing group in Bellingham led by Mary Gillilan.

“I still attend her weekly group at the Clover Building,” Faulkner says.

In fact, Faulkner asked Gillilan to edit his memoir, “The Road From Moab.” The book, which draws its title from Faulkner’s youth in Utah, is divided into six sections with 99 “life essays,” as he calls them on the title page. He published the first edition about a decade ago. He says the book became partly about “emancipating yourself from the cultural fetters of Utah.”

“What I’ve tried to do ... is to write about historical moments that may not be exactly right, but it’s what I recall,” he says.

Faulkner has had two careers. He was an economics instructor at Western Washington University, and was a longtime teachers’ union organizer and representative, first for the Washington Federation of Teachers and then for the American Federation of Teachers.

An Air Force veteran, he became a voracious reader while in the service, and later while studying at the University of Utah. He has long been involved in Democratic Party politics, and is familiar to readers of The Bellingham Herald for his many letters to the editor. He even published a booklet of letters that did not make it into the paper, with the word “REJECTED” printed in bold letters across the cover.

Full of viewpoints himself, he’s also fascinated by other people’s views and life experiences that he learns about in the writing group he started. The group began as a spinoff from a larger one at Bellingham Senior Activity Center.

“Many people have rich experiences that all would be enhanced to hear about,” Faulkner says, citing the example of Pat O’Toole, who is in her 90s and has kept a journal for 70 years, much to Faulkner’s admiration.

Faulkner tries to keep the group’s 90-minute Tuesday meetings as general as possible, knowing that many people don’t necessarily want to delve deeply into personal feelings.

“I try to elicit personal experiences from them,” he says. “I ask people what they’ve written and what they would like to read to the group.”

When Faulkner met Gillilan and became captivated by the possibilities involved in writing, he committed to writing a page every day. Retirement enabled him to keep that commitment.

Faulkner says one of the joys of writing personal experiences is that “it’s a great memory jogger.”

“People keep remarking that they can’t believe what I remember,” he says. “I still have a memory of my mom putting me in a crib when I was about 2 years old and a fly became trapped in the crib with me. But maybe I just dreamed that. ”