21-Plus & Holding

Senior activist Margaret Weedman loves the Bible, the Golden Rule, and Rudyard Kipling

So left alone, Weedman found herself drawn to local government and an almost endless array of social-service agencies, as "substitutes," in a way. "I think that if I'd been born and educated in this country, as night follows day, I would've gone into law," she says, her soft voice tinged with a touch of regret. "I would've been an honest lawyer and pleaded for good things." Instead she lives in poverty on her Social Security income of $500 per month.

But despite her "English" mildness, Weedman is a tough battler. She is harshly critical of a health care system that does not respect the elderly, makes them wait days for medications they depend on, and -- in her own case --is indifferent to crucial problems, like her wheelchair breakdown.

Hanging tough: A half-hour with Margaret Weedman tends to dispel self-pity
Steve Satterwhite
Hanging tough: A half-hour with Margaret Weedman tends to dispel self-pity

"Some of what goes on is so bad it makes me sick," she complains.

So Weedman has poured her energy into trying to thwart, or at the very least monitor, the cheating and mismanagement of funds she perceives in social-service agencies and the politicians that surround them. This quality has won her both loyal friends and more than her fair share of enemies. "There are people who would like for me to fall and knock my head and lose my memory," she laughs, only half in jest.

She has collected half a century of stories that run the gamut from poignant to amusing. Adopting the air of an old prizefighter describing the glory days, she talks about agitating before county commissioners and through the Alliance for Aging.

Weedman reserves her toughest criticism for the Community Action Agency (CAA), a Miami-Dade nonprofit group that provides job training and meals for low-income families and elders. Over her tenure as a CAA board member from 1977 to 1988, she accused the agency of wasting state funds by ordering too many hot meals for their lunchrooms, then selling the excess meals for profit on the street ... but to no avail. "It's been long, long years of aggravation. I don't even want to talk about it anymore," she sighs.

When asked about Margaret, CAA's executive director Ophelia Brown laughs and then pauses before speaking. "She's a pain in the neck," she finally blurts out. "She's somebody who likes to critique everything. Every paper -- she checks and rechecks and checks again. Any i that isn't dotted or t that isn't crossed, she's sure to point it out ... again and again."

But Margaret's tireless agitation has resulted in a lasting legacy at CAA's 395 NW First St. home. Her years of campaigning for the building to be made handicap-accessible finally resulted in the installation of an elevator more than a decade ago. And a small plaque on the elevator reads, "Dedicated to Margaret Weedman: CAA Board Member 1977-1988."

"When she sees something she thinks is important, she is persistent," Brown admits.

One issue that was particularly important to Weedman called for better checks on legal guardians for people declared incompetent -- a campaign she credits to a woman called "Mama Dorsey." Margaret, who generally has an encyclopedic knowledge of names, addresses, and telephone numbers, can't remember her real name.

About five years ago, Margaret says Mama Dorsey lived in an apartment upstairs from her in Homestead and fell prey to a guardian who was taking her money and not caring for her properly. Dorsey, who was about 85 years old at the time, grew sicker and sicker, Margaret says.

"One day I went to visit her in the hospital she'd been transferred to, and they told me she had passed away early that morning. It was a real shock." According to Margaret, her friend would not have died had she been appointed an honest, diligent guardian. So she approached the Alliance for Aging and confronted them with what she knew and suspected. As a response the alliance created a task force for guardianship, but Margaret says nothing has really changed.

"That's the way the world is, dear, and that's what I'm against," she says, her quavering voice growing stronger and more vehement. "There's a whole lot of people who are dying. A whole lot of people's homes are being taken from them. That's what makes me so angry, dear.

"People say one voice can't make a difference, but I do believe that the people who know me and have known me for a long time know that what I say is true," she says. She is proud, for example, that a group of blacks asked her help in ousting an unresponsive CAA advisory committee in Naranja as far back as the Seventies, and that she helped establish the Martin Luther King Clinic for farmworkers in the early Eighties in Florida City. And every time Weedman makes an allegation of carelessness, fraud, or mismanagement of funds, she says she has the documentation to prove it -- somewhere in her apartment.

Her apartment has become a literal filing cabinet. It contains 30 years' worth of minutes, agendas, initiatives, and mission statements to provide documentation for her many allegations -- a testament to her years of unyielding involvement in Miami-Dade County politics. She saves the paperwork, with her dutiful underlining and margin notes, for every meeting she has attended since her husband left her.

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