Special to the Reporter
The Hollywood hit movie “80 For Brady” tells the story of a group of women’s deep friendships and shared admiration for former New England Patriot Tom Brady. The tale was inspired by five women, two of whom are residents of Benchmark Senior Living communities: Pat Marx and Anita Riccio.
Now in their 90s, Pat lives at The Village at Willow Crossings, a Benchmark independent living, assisted living and Mind & Memory Care community in Mansfield, Mass, and Anita lives at The Branches of North Attleboro, a Benchmark assisted living and Mind & Memory Care community. Associates at both communities work hard to keep both ladies connected to their passions, including their mutual love of football that started almost 50 years ago.
Friends through football
When Pat and her late husband, Ed, first moved from their native Springfield to North Attleborough in the early 50s for his teaching and football coaching job at North Attleboro High School, they soon found themselves swept up by the town’s fervor for football.
“North Attleborough High School football games were the place to be, the entire town showed up. Even the coaches’ wives were recognized at the annual Thanksgiving game against their Attleboro rivals,” said Laurin Gibson, Pat’s daughter, who now lives in Wrentham.
As the coach’s daughter, Laurin’s childhood home was often filled with players, cheerleaders and other coaches. Ed had played football in high school and college and was passionate about the game.
It was through football that Pat got to know another woman, Betty Pensavalle. Betty was the wife of the high school’s head football coach, Conrad. He had been a star quarterback at Darmouth College. Soon, Betty and Pat were gardening, painting and attending parties together.
Anita and her husband, who also played high school football, and had moved to the area from Providence, R.I., around the same time, along with two other couples soon got swept up into the other couples’ love of the game.
Anita loved sports and had bowled, played tennis and golfed, so it was no surprise when she took up football. All of the couples attended games and parties together. Their children even became fast friends.
“I have many fond memories of spending time at Betty’s house with her five kids. They were like a second family to me,” said Laurin.
“From the time I was a child through high school, every fourth of July we would go over to Betty’s house where everyone would be. We also went on many ski trips together,” said Bob Riccio, Anita’s son, who still lives in North Attleborough.
Although the women originally bonded over football their relationships over the decades developed into much more than that. They supported one another through their kids going off to college, divorces and the deaths of their husbands.
The ladies also supported Pat through multiple bouts with cancer, even driving her to radiation. Also, when she divorced and had to start a new business, a staffing agency, to support herself.
“They were there for each other through thick and thin,” said Laurin.
It was when all of the women had lost their husbands that they began getting together to root for the Patriots, each week rotating to a different friend’s house.
“My mother really got into it after my dad passed away in 2004. She liked watching football and Tom Brady. I think it was more about the socializing and getting together than it was about the actual game,” said Bob.
“They really just did their thing on their own as independent women,” said Laurin.
It’s their kinship and get togethers that inspired “80 For Brady.” The movie stars Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Rita Moreno, and Sally Field and of course, Tom Brady.
About five years ago, when Pat and Anita were both living alone in condos, their families began to see things that were alarming to them.
During Pat’s third bout with cancer, she lost a lot of weight and ended up in rehab. After that, she had home care during the day for several months, but it wasn’t a good long-term solution. Eventually, she moved into an assisted living community, but they couldn’t meet her health needs.
Bob, along with his siblings and wife, Patty, began to grow concerned when their mom started to forget things.
“The neighbors were saying she would leave the music on loud at night, which wasn’t like her. At some point, we knew something was going on, and she did too,” he said.
She too, eventually moved into an assisted living community, but the family soon realized she needed more care.
Around 2018, Anita’s family discovered The Branches of North Attleborough and moved Anita in. A few years later, Laurin moved Pat into The Village at Willow Crossings. At their Benchmark communities, both Pat and Anita have thrived.
“All of the staff know my mom and are very helpful and friendly.” said Laurin. “They take the time to do little things like her hair and nails, which make her feel good. Also, throughout my life, my mom has never sung and now she loves anything having to do with music. She loves all of the entertainment they have and will even suddenly break out into song.”
Bob is quick to refer other people to The Branches because “the memory care staff are wonderful and treat the residents so nice. There is genuine affection for my mother.”
Although both ladies now spend their time on a range of activities, occasionally they enjoy catching a few minutes of a football game and even sporting their “80 For Brady” shirts, which Betty’s grandson had made for the group.