Lillian Darden was my first friend at what has been my church home for the past 16 years.
I didn’t know she was Methodist royalty. Her parents, the Rev. Candler and Dorothy Budd, were instrumental in establishing what is now Wesley Woods Senior Living retirement communities; the Rev. Budd was a 64-year member of the North Georgia Methodist Conference who pastored seven churches. I also didn’t know about her family’s political prominence: Her husband, former U.S. Rep. Buddy Darden, served for nearly a dozen years in Washington.
“Come sit with me!” is all she said that first Wednesday night supper at Marietta First United Methodist Church. She immediately started introducing me around as her “new best friend.”
Hundreds of Darden’s best friends packed the St. Regis ballroom recently for the Foundation of Wesley Woods’ 27th annual Heroes, Saints and Legends fundraiser. Not surprisingly, she spent much of her time saluting others, naming folks in the crowd and noting the long friendships they represented.
“Thank you all tonight for standing up for the elderly, for people that need it,” she said. “I want to thank all of you here tonight, including the United Methodist Church, in particular Marietta First United Methodist Church and Dr. Sam Ruff Matthews, for standing up for Wesley Woods. My parents, Dorothy and Candler, are smiling up in heaven because of all of you.”
Darden, a past president and former board member of the Foundation of Wesley Woods, was honored along with Dr. David Allen, a graduate of Emory University’s School of Dentistry who formed a health care consulting firm after many years in practice. As founding chairman of the Georgia Natural Resources Foundation, he has championed the preservation of Georgia’s natural and cultural resources.
Also honored was Egbert L.J. Perry, chairman and CEO of the Integral Group, a real estate, construction and community development firm focused on urban redevelopment projects. He addressed the crowd following a heartfelt introduction from his daughter, Rian Perry Smith, commercial real estate attorney at the Integral Group.
“It really doesn’t get any better than that, to have your daughter say nice things about you,” Perry said. “I don’t like attention. I don’t take myself too seriously. I’ve just been really lucky.”
The ninth of 11 children, he grew up with a reverence for his elders.
“What made that village were a lot of seniors looking out for the next generation,” he said. “I want to pay tribute to the keepers of that village.”
More than 1,500 older adults are served annually in Wesley Woods Senior Living retirement communities, with 75 percent receiving financial assistance. (For information, see wesleywoods.org.)
“We serve people, not the bottom line,” said Tracy Crump, the Foundation of Wesley Woods’ executive director. “It’s not just a job. It’s a calling.”