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Staff Spotlight: The Rev. Dr. Cary Speaker

By Sarah Sexton | Publish Date February 21, 2024

The Rev. Dr. Cary Speaker dreamed of working at Kirkwood by the River for more than 30 years. “When I was on staff as an Associate Pastor at Independent Presbyterian Church, Kirkwood was still a young organization. I remember thinking that the best job in the world would be Chaplain at Kirkwood.”

From receiving services as a family member of a resident at Kirkwood to volunteering within our community, Cary is familiar with Kirkwood beyond his connection through IPC. We are excited to welcome Cary on staff as he assumes the role of Chaplain.

“I am just so thankful I am in this position,” he said. “I feel appreciated for what I do here. I’ve been here a week, and I feel that.”

At six months old, Cary and his family moved from Jackson, MS, to Birmingham, AL. “I was very fortunate to grow up in a loving, nurturing Christian home, and the Presbyterian church has always been a part of my life,” he explained.

Cary attended Woodlawn High School and was active at Woodlawn Presbyterian Church throughout his adolescence. After graduating from Samford University and taking a year to teach in the Birmingham public school system, Cary went to seminary at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA, where he received a Doctor of Ministry degree.

“I always wondered how I could be helpful in the world,” he said. “I considered medicine, law, business, and I knew ministry seemed like a good idea. The sense of calling can be a mysterious thing, but there were so many external confirmations – nudges toward ministry – and my sense of calling was reinforced.”

Cary began his work in ministry as a Chaplain at Baptist Medical Center Montclair in Birmingham. After two years, he was called to Roanoke, VA, as an Associate Pastor for Christian Education and Youth Minister.

“That’s where I met my wife,” he said. “Sally was a recent college graduate who was working at the hospital across the street from the church where I worked. The head of the church search committee was a childhood family friend of hers. Sally and I were friends for about two years before we decided to quit denying that we were falling in love with each other.”

The two were married in May 1981, and two weeks later, they moved to Tuscaloosa, AL. Over the next seven years, as Cary served as chaplain at the DCH Medical Center, they welcomed two sons – Preston and Edward. In 1988, Cary accepted a call from The Queen’s Medical Center in Honolulu as their first full-time Chaplain. “We instituted a training program for chaplains – it was a great laboratory for learning,” he said. “And I enjoyed the culture of Hawaii. I never learned to surf, but Sally did.”

In 1992, Cary was called to be an Associate Pastor at IPC, where he spent the next 10 years. His ministry was centered in pastoral care, and he led the church’s pastoral counseling ministry. Cary did crisis counseling and referred to the counseling staff for ongoing therapy.

“With the experience I have, I know that I can be with people as we enter the last chapters of life. I can walk with people on that journey,” Cary said. “My favorite thing to do is sit with people and listen to them.”

From IPC, Cary was called to be Pastor of Mountain Brook Presbyterian Church, where we served for more than 12 years. In 2015, he began his stint as an Interim Pastor, providing guidance to presbyterian churches in Huntsville, Birmingham, and Mobile as they searched for their full-time pastor. “Transitions can be anxious times for folks, and I was able to help manage these congregations’ anxiety about the future,” he said.

Cary is a natural story teller, an extrovert, a grandfather of two, an avid reader, and a big fan of the movie theater. His experience as a hospital chaplain, an educator on grief support, a minister of pastoral care, an associate pastor, and as head pastor of a congregation uniquely qualifies him for his role within our community.

In his role as Chaplain, Cary can be found leading Bible studies across Kirkwood, visiting with residents and families within the community, and preaching during our weekly worship services. He encourages residents to participate in all the many areas Kirkwood has to offer.

“There is so much going on – just pick something every day,” he said. “Even if you’re an introvert or shy or don’t think you want to meet new people, just get up and go. And if that truly doesn’t sound appealing, call me and I’ll come see you.”

Cary can be reached by contacting the reception desk at 205-956-2184.

Welcome to Kirkwood, Cary!

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The Residents

Our residents come from different backgrounds and bring their unique qualities, talents, and life experiences to complete the Kirkwood community. Here are just a few reflections from some individuals who call Kirkwood their home.

I fell in love with the cottage and the view from my back porch. I am excited to have a yard for Ginger, my poodle, to play in and my own garage, all within an established retirement community!

Charlotte Hamilton Current Resident

My husband and I looked at a number of places when deciding to move to a retirement community. For the most part, we found communities that said, ‘We’re going to take care of you.’ But Kirkwood was different. It wasn’t just about taking care of us. It was also about having fun, having friends, and living life to the fullest. The attitude at Kirkwood was positive and the atmosphere was comforting. We simply couldn’t resist. Without a doubt, the location was ideal. The Cahaba Room that overlooks the river, the mountains, the trails – there were just so many things about life. The community was lively. It was alive.

Alice Brooks Current Resident

We realized we were approaching an age where we might need more assistance than what just downsizing could provide. Knowing we have my sons nearby and the levels of care should we need it is comforting, and the beautiful hillside, river, and the woods makes it that much more appealing. We don’t know of any other community that has the woods, the various levels of care, and so many different amenities.

Phyllis and John Guschke Current Residents

We were moving my parents down from the Cleveland area to be near us. I looked at almost every retirement place in the Birmingham area. The second I turned into Kirkwood’s drive and drove up the hill, I knew that I’d found the perfect place for my parents to live in Alabama. In the six years that my parents have been at Kirkwood, I have always felt nothing but love and helpfulness from every staff member. Everyone is always helpful with a pleasant attitude. You can truly see and feel the family atmosphere. I’m happy that my parents can call Kirkwood their home.

Brenda Sheehan Kirkwood family member

When we learned that Cedar Ridge was being developed, that seemed to fit our needs very well. It is the ideal place for the next phase of our retirement.

Carol and Arthur Stephens Current Residents

One thing that we feel is very important here at Kirkwood by the River is the relationship that we have between the staff and the residents. They are dedicated to making our life here as safe and secure and pleasurable as possible. That goes a long way.

Fred Rogers Current Resident

The community's cottage living surrounded by a wooded, natural environment with access to future healthcare services is what attracted us to Kirkwood!

Rick and Jane Ricketts Current Residents