When “Big George” Foreman appears on screen and playfully boxes at the camera, the other participants on the Zoom meeting start cheering.
“Hello everybody!” he says. “This is fantastic. I’ve got my little spinner, just let me know when to go.”
Foreman is the former World Heavyweight Champion, originally known for his showdowns with boxers like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. He’s also an Olympic gold medalist, an author, and the man behind the George Foreman’s Lean Mean Fat-Reducing Grilling Machine, better known as the “George Foreman Grill.”
On Wednesday afternoon, Foreman showed up on Zoom to call a game of Bingo for the residents of the Heritage Gardens Nursing & Rehab facility in Carrollton.
Like everyone else, the nursing facility has been protecting their residents by staying in lockdown for what “seems like forever,” says Jo Ellen Fisher, the director of nursing. Though the residents and their families have remained positive, she knows it has been hard for them to be so isolated.
Earlier this month, Matthew McConaughey and his family surprised the seniors at Enclave at Round Rock Senior Living by calling Bingo on Zoom. When the staff of Heritage Gardens saw the news story, they realized they wanted to do something special for their residents too.
Jo Ellen Fisher happens to have a cousin, Candy Harris, who knows Foreman.
A few years ago, as Harris explains it, her younger brother, a person with special needs, was dying of renal cell cancer. She was staying with their mother in Longview to take care of him in his final days, when the phone rang one day. When she answered it, Foreman was on the other end of the line.
“He wouldn’t tell me anything, but “his friend George” was calling to talk to Wade,” Harris wrote in an April 19 email. “Because of Wade’s illness and protectiveness we always tried to give him, I continued to question who was calling. Finally I gave Wade the phone. Into the conversation and by Wade’s reaction, I realized it was [George] Foreman.”
Harris’ brother was a fan of Foreman’s and when Foreman heard about his situation, he had decided to give him a call and make his day.
After they hung up, Foreman called Harris back, and they laughed about how suspicious she had been of him. Though they don’t talk much, they’ve been friends ever since.
Fisher reached out to Harris to ask if Foreman might want to call bingo for their quarantined residents.
“Within less than a day, he responded that it sounded great and he was going to talk to his kids and would get back,” Harris says.
Foreman’s daughter, Leola, promptly emailed her saying that he was excited to host Bingo and she would make all the arrangements.
The day before the big game, the Heritage Gardens staff downloaded Zoom on as many devices as possible so that each resident would have their own screen for the 2 p.m. game. “I was very impressed that he’s a nice enough guy that he’ll respond, much less agree,” Fisher says. “And we are so grateful for his donation of time to the Heritage Gardens community.”
To Harris, it wasn’t a surprise. “George Foreman is the kindest, most down to earth, ‘gentle giant’ of a man,” she says.
At the Bingo event Wednesday afternoon, Foreman begins spinning his bingo wheel, calling out each letter and number clearly. He offers cheerful commentary as he goes. “I-17. I just started to box at 17 years old,” he says at one point. “This is going to be somebody’s number, I can feel it. G! G like George. G-57.”
About ten minutes in, he spins I-19. “Now you’ve gotta win; I won a gold medal when I was 19!” he says.
There’s a shout from one of the other participants: “We’ve got a bingo!”