Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
Many people know Charles "Chuck" Ware for his pleasant demeanor, his constant presence at Clayton County functions, and a familiar cowboy hat that is only occasionally replaced by a fedora.
However, more people know Ware as an advocate for people who can't advocate for themselves, particularly the frail and elderly.
While 80 years old himself, he has spent nearly 20 years of post-retirement life fighting tooth-and-nail at the Georgia State Capitol on behalf of seniors, through affiliations with AARP, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC), the Aging Division Advisory Board, the Clayton County Aging Program Advisory Board, and other groups.
Recently, Ware was recognized by the Georgia Council on Aging (CO-AGE) for being one of 11 people around the state who are making a big difference in the lives of Georgia's elderly. He was recognized as the metro-Atlanta-area winner of the 2010 Martha Eaves Advocating for Positive Change Award. He received the award during a CO-AGE conference in Savannah, on April 29, according to Maureen Kelly, business and community liaison for the ARC's Area Agency on Aging, which nominates candidates for the Eaves award in the 10-county metro-Atlanta region.
Named after deceased CO-AGE member and lifelong senior advocate, Martha Eaves, the award recognizes people who go above and beyond the call of duty for seniors. Kelly said the award is given to people who embody the spirit of Eaves, who would advocate at the Capitol for seniors "from 8 a.m., in the morning until the 'sine die' at night."
"Chuck has been a member of our advisory board on aging for quite a number of years," Kelly said. "I credit him for a lot of the positive changes in Clayton County. He will always show up, if there is a legislative issue. He has the ability to stick to his mission and do what's good for people without upsetting people," she said. "He's able to sidestep conflict with dignity."
A native of East Chicago, Ind., Ware said his affinity for the senior population started when he was a boy watching his mother, who would style the hair of the elderly women at their church, free of charge. As a young man, at the behest of his mother, Ware would chauffeur elderly women around East Chicago without accepting a penny in compensation. "In those days, they didn't have Social Security, and a lot of women didn't work," Ware said. "She said always respect your seniors, because they have been to where you are trying to go. That always stuck with me."
From 1964 to 1987, Ware worked as a Chicago-area union official with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, where he advocated for the fair treatment of a variety of blue-collar workers, including asphalt drivers, sanitary workers, excavator operators, and new-car dealers. He said he "got rid of the sweat" in sweatshop operations and negotiated with employers for better conditions, fairer hours, and higher wages for workers.
In 1987, he retired to the Atlanta area, moving to Clayton County a year later. While working for six years as a security guard for Georgia Power, Ware raised money for local non-profit organizations by hosting fund-raisers featuring bowls of "Chuck's Chili," a recipe he said he worked years to perfect.
In 1994, he became a member of the Clayton County Aging Board (which administers the Meals on Wheels program) and later took advisory board positions with the ARC's Aging Task Force and CO-AGE, while serving as a state coordinator for AARP. In the mid 1990s, Ware began spending much of his time at the State Capitol, where Eaves, he said, was his mentor and partner in fighting for state funding for programs for seniors.
"Martha Eaves is the one who broke me in," he said. "Seniors are always left with the serving tray. They'll [the General Assembly will] give it [funding to senior programs] in the beginning of the session, but if they need to do budget cutting, they always cut the seniors. [During legislative sessions] she [Eaves] wouldn't go to the bathroom until they recessed. The legislators look for which organizations aren't there, and they take their money."
As a lobbyist at the Capitol, Ware said, he has been instrumental in lobbying for bills laying the groundwork for the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Program in Clayton County, as well putting in place state laws requiring new home and apartment builders to make doors inside homes wide enough for wheelchair access. "I feel like God gave Moses a rod, he gave David a sling shot, and he gave me a pair of scissors to cut the red tape to help people," Ware said. "It's a joy to walk the halls of the Capitol knowing that I'm helping people."
In addition to serving the elderly, Ware was instrumental in securing a grant to restore the historic Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Lovejoy, while serving as Clayton County's grants and government liaison from 2006 to 2009. He continues to serve on numerous volunteer boards and spends his Wednesday nights feeding the homeless at New Faith Mission in Stockbridge, he said.
Mindy French, manager of the Frank Bailey Senior Center, and former manager of the Clayton County Aging Program, said Ware has served on the Aging Program Advisory Board continuously for 16 years, making him one of the longest-, if not the longest-serving member. She said he has been "a godsend to the seniors of this county and the metro region.
"If not for people like Chuck, a lot of things wouldn't get done that we need done," said French. "Because Chuck is always so available and willing to step up and work whenever called on ... he is often called on. They know he will get the job done, if asked."
Ware, whose hat is his signature trademark, said he keeps it on, so he'll always be ready to go on behalf of seniors.