Richard Aubry's story is a rich tapestry of the kind of experiences that makes an interviewer want to pull out a typewriter and tap away until a novel is produced. From his quiet beginnings as an elementary teacher and his experience during his state's aggressive segregationist policies; to his participation in a very unlikely sports team, to an unexpected career switch—there is no shortage of stories from Aubry.
Growing up in Northern Virginia, Aubry was no stranger to the challenges that life can present. The soft spoken young man, a business major, decided to start a career as an elementary educator, near the same community that would come to be notorious for its policies on integration of public schools. In years prior to the ruling, Prince Edwards County's relatively peaceful civil rights activities had been taking place but did not attract the media attention given to other communities. Virginia political leaders, however, were vocal against the court-mandated integration and in the county, the unheralded decision was made to completely shut down Prince Edwards County's public schools while public school attendance was deemed legally non-compulsory.
Aubry has always felt passionately that this action was a “terrible thing to do.” Meanwhile, for five years, most of the county's 1,700 black school children went without any formal education and became known as the 'crippled generation' of the county. It was with some of these students that Aubry eventually found himself tied with when he joined an all-black baseball league.
Aubry, who adored playing sports was teaching at Longwood University in Farmville (Virginia) and desperately wanted to play baseball, rather than softball. The only hardball available in the area was a black team so he approached a Farmville team to see if they would let him join. He was accepted by the team, to the consternation of some of the players. When his team played against other teams, he would sometimes be given a hard time but his teammates started to defend him and eventually the friction subsided.
Regarding his academic pursuits, Aubry initially earned a B.S. in business from American University but found he delighted in the education sector and so pursued an M.Ed. in Education Administration and later his Ed.D. in early education, from the University of Virginia. After instructing teachers of every age from preschool up to graduate school, Aubry began serving as a principal before taking a position as an assistant superintendent. Facing the reality that his next step career step would likely be as a full-time administrator, rather than spend the majority of his 'free' time at board meetings, Aubry decided it was time to for a change and so retired from the school system to focus on running a family business with his bride, Mo. The couple settled in Charlottesville, Virginia, but they later decided to move the family and business to Sarasota.
ENRICHING THE TAPESTRY OF LIFE
The antiques appraisal business became a passion to Aubry, and always was for Mo, an admirer of tapestries, who began collecting 'antiques' even in grade school and documenting them in her notebooks. From flooded mobile homes to grand houses, the couple has helped many families assess the value of items they or a loved one have owned. Even though Aubry enjoyed the appraisal business, being diagnosed with Parkinson's became the impetus for his next big decision and he decided to make his health his career.
A NEW CHAPTER WITH PD
“I was diagnosed with Parkinson's seven years ago.” He recalls that two major instances raised his concern that something was different; the first being that he was dragging a foot and the second being when a 4 year old student asked why his hand 'shook so much.' At the time, Aubry was Director of St. Boniface Preschool in Sarasota, where his passion for education, and experience, strengthened the budgetary health and overall quality of programming at the school.
Aubry is now retired from both the educational sector and the antiques appraisal business. He found especially that Parkinson's made it more difficult for him to get around as quickly as he needed to for the business. But Aubry and Mo are die-hard tennis players and Aubry loves the way he feels when he gets on the court. “It transforms me. I move faster than anyone else I play with!” He also took part in the Cleveland Clinic's research on motorized exercise bicycle's effects on people with Parkinson's.
Aubry says the exercise programs he underwent improved his balance and stability by fifty percent. If he was able to tell other people with Parkinson's anything, he would tell them “If people exercise, they will reap the benefits.” Resultant of Aubry's decision to look after his health more carefully was a thirty pound weight loss, which helps him keep more active.
NO STOPPING ALLOWED
He continues to plan projects for himself and recently began volunteering regularly at the Neuro Challenge Foundation, which focuses on providing opportunities for supportive exercise and social activities enjoyed by fighters with Parkinson's and their families. Aubry feels that the programming, along with the oversight provided by Dr. Dean Sutherland, is 'head and shoulders above anything I've seen anywhere else' and even when it was a new concept, roughly six years ago, impressed him. He and Mo first began with Neuro Challenge by coming to monthly support groups. “My wife enjoys going to these meetings and events, and they help her learn a lot about Parkinson's.” For her part, Mo keeps busy with her own appraisal business and has also shared her time by volunteering with Neuro Challenge.
Aubry's experience in appraising taught him keenly how much personal sentiment affects a person's value of an object. Perhaps it was the experience of playing baseball with men who had lost 5 years of their education to segregation, back in Virginia, which compelled him to place such high value on education. Aubry has been an advocate for providing safe school environments for young students and has presented lectures across the United States on what parents need to look for in quality preschools. He is even planning a book on quality preschools, to be published in the near future.
His more immediate project, however, is the publishing of a book that will chronicle his experience as a white baseball player on a black league. He also hopes to delve into the effect that the Prince Edward County public school closings had on his former teammates and is currently traveling throughout Virginia to conduct research.
Parkinson's made it necessary for Aubry to adapt but has not dampened his desire for growing and learning. Although he is busy with big projects, Aubry has made taking care of his health his career. For himself and the sake of his entire family, this is one job that he has no plans to retire from.