Falls Church, Virginia – Garrulous and active, 79-year-old Joy Bricker presides over her hotel suite in a manner befitting a grander home. She offers tea to the staff and media with the ease of a person schooled in proper etiquette.
Like many hotel guests, Bricker has learned to make herself feel comfortable, making her room a home away from home. Only, Bricker has called the Towne Place Suites by Marriott, in Falls Church, Virginia, home for more than 10 years.
A former pilot, the 5-foot tour de force is finally turning in her key card, as movers wait to carry off the few labeled belongings she’d brought in to room 202.
“I had this chair brought up from my condo in Florida,” says Bricker.
A divider serves as a mantel for framed pictures of family, separating the kitchenette and living area of her 500-square-foot suite. She’s made the hotel furniture, identical in all rooms, more personal with a blanket on a sofa and stuffed animal over a lampshade.
Extended hotel stays are not so unusual, according to Carla Berberich, a general manager at the Towne Place Suites, especially for business travelers. This Virginia location is nearly half-filled, at 46 percent. But, no one has stayed as long as Bricker, who checked in on August 4, 2001. She is the longest extended-stay guest any Marriott hotel has seen.
What brought Bricker here was a job with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the second politically-appointed position the onetime homemaker says she accepted. But this one came when she was 68, when many senior citizens are well settled into retirement.
But, Bricker began her professional career at 50. Years of political organizing she says led to a friendship with Elizabeth and Bob Dole and ultimately to her first job during the Reagan administration in the Department of Transportation in 1981. A stint followed at the White House, where she worked in the campaign for A Drug Free America starting in 1986.
For the Pennsylvania native, who spent the better part of her adult life in rural Ashland, New Hampshire, the Beltway is where she has felt most at home.
The death of her husband, Glenn, from cancer gave her no pause in returning to work in 2001, which landed her at the Towne Place Suites. For less than the price of many apartment rentals in the Washington metro area (roughly $1,500-$1,700 a month) Bricker’s room was supplied with wifi, which fueled her hours of daily online research and reading a day, and the added benefit of daily room cleaning, and round-the-clock security. Though she says she still makes her bed each day, though not nearly as well.
Bricker has become a pillar of the transient, makeshift community. She’s made friends of staff and short-term neighbors alike. Next door, her new Kuwaiti friend brings traditional meals of spiced stew for them to share.
“It’s helped my appetite,” says Bricker as she acknowledges her frail frame. “I call it community planning,” she adds, “I turned it into a community.”
Her daughter, Chris Winton, explains further, “She turned them into family, and they accepted.”
And, it was this family of hotel staff who came to her aid when last year a late-night fall landed her in the hospital with a broken hip. General Manager Bobby Bellinger was the first person Bricker saw when she awoke in her hospital bed.
“It ran through my mind how many people would have been this lucky,” says Bricker as she holds Bellinger’s hand on what will be a final visit together.
Now, compounded ailments of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis are forcing the fiercely independent Bricker to move in with her daughter in upstate New York.
For a woman who once flew a Cherokee 180 (which she says is still in the air), she won’t be grounded by this next phase of her life. She plans to devote her time to church.
“If I’ve set a goal, I’m going to reach it, she says.” Her goal now: “Continue offering whatever I am able to give. I have to help. I’m not a sitter.”