By Magen McCrarey
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Her husband is her co-worker, her 51 clients are her neighbors and she always takes work home with her. Peggy Jo Kirby is the manager of Carnaby Square Apartments, on South Main Street in London.
“When you live where you work its impossible to not get attached to the people who live here because we all live under the same roof,” Kirby said. “The hardest part of my job, this is the one thing that has never gotten any easier in the eight years I’ve been here, when death comes.” Kirby’s mother, Naomi Durham, was a resident before Kirby made her move to London from Florida in 2004. She lived in a Carnaby Square Apartment, and was having management issues. Through investigation, Kirby called the apartments’ owner, Burgess Stone, a Cincinnati attorney, to find out how she could further assist her mother or if she needed to sell her house to make the move to London. Stone suggested that he needed a new manager, and planted the divine appointment within Kirby’s mind.
“They hired me to come here and be the manager of the building where my mother lived, that never would have occurred to me,” she said. Kirby and her husband, Dennis moved into an apartment beside her mother’s and began their life’s journey with the residents of Carnaby Square. The residents are 62 years and over, the oldest is 94, and the one-bedroom apartments are offered through HUD Housing are specially designated for the elderly and handicapped.
“I feel like I benefit from living among the elderly, the time I’ve spent here with them, I’ve grown as a person and as a Christian, because I think there are a lot of things about life that only come from age and experience and these people that live here have both,” she said, adding, “most have lived through the depression and they’ve taught me a lot about being conservativeÖI feel like I’ve benefited from their age and their wisdom and experience.
“For six years, Kirby was able to visit her mother whenever she pleased. When Durham grew ill, Kirby checked on her every hour in the apartment directly behind her office, like clockwork. In 2010 Kirby lost her mother at 89-years-old.”It devastated me, I saw her everyday, I took care of her, I was her caregiver. That has been the most difficult experience of my life, for the past two years. I don’t want any more changes in my life,” Kirby said.
She continued her divine appointment with the Carnaby residents and to this day cannot seem to pull her life apart from them. “Carnaby Square Apartments is not just an apartment building, it’s a community of people that set the example of neighbors caring about neighbors,” Kirby said. “I make it as nice and clean as I can, this will be the last home most of them will ever have.””We don’t have a lot of square footage and we don’t have padding under our carpet, but we have peace and I think that’s much more valuable. A lot of people that live here have moved out of a large home or they lived on a big farm, a lot of the women especially moved into this building because they were widowed and they were afraid--they moved here to feel safe and so hopefully they do.”
Kirby’s husband Dennis, works everyday as a full-time maintenance man. She laughs at the fact that neither she nor her husband are working within the field that they have a Bachelor’s degree in. For Kirby, she has a degree in elementary education, and Dennis, a degree in business administration.
“I grew up in Rockcastle County and I was a teacher in the Rockcastle school system, but I’ve spent my life in social work,” she said. “We’re both out of our field but it’s OK.”
“I can’t think of anybody I’d rather want to be teammate than my husband, and the residents love Dennis as much as they love me. They kind of treat us like we are their grandchildren.”
Kirby’s love language is service, and after hours at the Carnaby office she volunteers her time to WYGE Christian Radio and First Pentecostal Church of London. Every day, Kirby leaves her apartment door, glancing over at the door where the last memories of her mother were made. “My favorite tenant was my own little mama,” she said. “There comes a time that you have to move forward and go on—that’s kind of where I am, I’m beginning that phase of thinking about what’s next for me, Lord.”