Laid Off by Waldorf, Age 62 and Starting Over

Posted on November 7, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

New York Times Neediest Cases Hits Home

While everyone I meet as Catholic Charities' liaison with The New York Times Neediest Cases campaign shares powerful, poignant, and often painful stories, some, like Regina Gatewood, whose profile appeared on Sunday’s newsstands, hit particularly close to home.

Like Ms. Gatewood, too many friends have been “pretired,” retired long before they are ready.  Their company moves. Their skills become obsolete. Or, like Ms. Gatewood, their employer, the Waldorf, ages, then closes its doors. 

It is also likely many of us at Catholic Charities met Ms. Gatewood at the Waldorf long before I interviewed her as a potential Neediest Case.  Catholic Charities, for years, held galas there to raise funds for those we serve.  Fellow staff and I helped with setup and watched with admiration as waiters like Ms. Gatewood double-teamed to serve hundreds of hungry guests.

Check out excerpts from Ms. Gatewood’s powerful New York Times Neediest Cases story:

“At the Waldorf Astoria, she caught glimpses of Donald J. Trump, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama”, writes New York Times Reporter Emily Palmer.

That’s to name just a few of the politicians Regina Gatewood spotted in her 16 years as a banquet waitress at the Waldorf, on Park Avenue in Manhattan…

 “I never thought about retiring,” Ms. Gatewood, 62, said. “I thought I would die in the Jade Room.”

But when the luxury hotel closed its doors on March 1 for years of renovations, Ms. Gatewood found herself without a job, along with more than 1,200 unionized hotel employees. Although they had known the closing was coming, Ms. Gatewood said, there was still an atmosphere of disbelief. Her work at the Waldorf was highly specialized — waiters served in pairs and did not use a computer-ordering system — and Ms. Gatewood worried such specialization would make it difficult for her to find employment elsewhere.

On the afternoon that the Waldorf closed, Hilton Worldwide, which manages the hotel, treated employees to a party in the Grand Ballroom, complete with champagne.

“But champagne is for celebrations,” Ms. Gatewood said. “And what were we celebrating? We were losing our jobs. We needed a good strong vodka, or maybe a Scotch.”

At the end of the party, the employees turned toward the stage, where a large mock light switch was flipped and the lights went out.

Seeking a fit for her specialized skills was not Ms. Gatewood’s only concern: She feared the challenge of finding work in her 60s. She joined the 91,000 New York State residents who are 55 or older and looking for work. About a third of people in that demographic face long-term unemployment, or at least 27 weeks without work, according to the Bureau for Labor Statistics.

Ms. Gatewood decided she needed to develop skills for a different career. In March, she enrolled at Grace Institute, (a Catholic Charities affiliated agency and) job-training program serving low-income women in New York City.

For more than a century, Grace Institute has provided tuition-free job-training skills for women. This includes intensive computer, business writing and career-development classes. Staff prepares students for interviews. They draw on the Institute’s extensive lists of employer contacts to arrange meetings. The goal is to help students land solid jobs, become self sufficient and improve the quality of their and their families’ lives.

During a recent interview, Ms. Gatewood walked the green-and-white halls of the (Grace Institute) building in the financial district, her head held high, her pace brisk.

“This is my home away from home,” she said with a smile.

Read Regina Gatewood’s full Neediest Cases profile in The New York Times

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