As an employee, Liliana Torres was known for her dedication, strong work ethic and helping others, especially those at an advanced age.
Caring for seniors was her mission in life, lending a hand and supporting the elderly any way she could, always showing warmth, kindheartedness, and concern as she moved about her day.
And it rubbed off on others in a big, big way.
“Lily really did care for seniors,” emphasized Bob Joe, South Pasadena’s former mayor, just one of thousands around town impacted by the work Torres did as director of the local Senior Center. “She is a true friend to our seniors, showing love, service, and commitment to them. She will be missed!”
Those final words were echoed by current Mayor, Diana Mahmud, who closed Wednesday night’s City Council meeting honoring Torres for her 33 years of service to the City of South Pasadena, “which is more time with the city than her own family,” expressed Lily’s current boss, Community Service Director Sheila Pautsch. “She was very loyal to the seniors of South Pasadena and many who live in surrounding cities. She always went beyond her responsibilities when a senior was in need. She would visit them when they called and needed assistance with care, a spouse, or any help they would need. If fire or police called with a senior in need they called Lily directly and she was there. She is just amazing.”
When she began working for the city in 1987, retirement was only a far-off thought, but now that it’s finally here Torres looks forward to putting her feet up, relaxing awhile -– although it doesn’t seem to be in her nature -– and reminisce about a successful career that has now come to a close.
Her accomplishments are many, the most noteworthy coming after she assumed the Senior Center director position in 1995. Among her exploits was launching the city’s Dial-A-Ride program in 1989, a bus service that transports seniors around town, whether it be to the local store or for a doctors appointment. Next came the popular Summer Concerts in the Park series launched in 1999 and four years later with the start of lunch service at the Senior Center and home-delivery of meals program. Perhaps her greatest contribution came in 2004 when she laid the groundwork for the Senior Citizen Foundation, “and really took off from there,” noted Pautsch, after earning 503C3 nonprofit status in 2007.
“The Foundation provides the critical extra funding for programs and items that the Senior Center is unable to afford on its own very limited budget,” explained Mark Langill, a resident and familiar name, known mostly for his role as the Dodgers’ historian who also serves locally on the Senior Citizen Foundation Board.
Another targeted effort in which Torres shined were fitness and health education programs she started in 2011, enhancing the lives of many, and will continue once the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
Langill was among a group of invitees in attendance Wednesday morning signaling their best wishes to Torres during a brief ceremony in front of the Senior Center – all wearing masks and at a safe distance, of course – followed by a retirement drive-by celebration in which her supporters were given the opportunity to say goodbye from their cars during the event billed as “Cheers to 33 Years!”
And cheer they did as Mayor Mahmud, Pautsch, and Bill Cullinane, the president of the Senior Centers Foundation of South Pasadena, praised the efforts of the departing city worker before Torres, joined by family members, handed out cupcakes to all those taking part. At one point, a South Pasadena fire engine and rescue ambulance, along with members of the local police department, came on the scene with sirens blaring.
“Overwhelmed and grateful” are the words Pautsch used to describe the emotion felt by Torres on this memorable day. Others talked in glowing terms about what she meant to them.
“Because of her dedication and advocating that our older generation be treated with dignity and respect, Liliana was the heart of the Senior Center and truly one of a kind,” said Langill. “She leaves a legacy one can hope to emulate, but never duplicate.”
Longtime South Pasadena City Councilmember Michael Cacciotti added: “Liliana dedicated herself to the city and our seniors for many years. She was certainly one of the major reason’s our senior center was a special and welcoming location for our senior community to gather and celebrate.”
And from Joan Aguado, the City of South Pasadena’s film liaison, responsible for coordinating movie and commercial shoots around the community: “Lily is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I know. It has been a pleasure to work with her. I miss her already.”
Now away from her extended family – those at the Senior Center – Torres looks forward to spending more time with her real one, including family members husband George, daughter Natali, and son Georgie. Enjoying hiking, gardening, and, well, sleeping in every day – minus the alarm clock – are in her immediate plans.
“The memories I take away are many, oh goodness so many,” said Torres. “I will not forget the volunteers that gave unselfishly; the seniors that came to me needing someone to listen to their frustrations; the seniors that felt lost as they learned of health issues or the ones that came into the Center not knowing why they came in and needed clarity. Sadly we had many of those cases, some were facing early onset of dementia, others were just having difficulty coping. A big part of my job was to listen, to observe, to contact resources to get them assistance, or reach out to a family member. Aging is not easy but I am thankful the Senior Center was, and will be, there to help guide them through what comes with retirement.”
As she departs, her message to the community is heartfelt. “Be proud that the City South Pasadena values it’s older adults and the center will always have their best interest in mind,” said Torres. “I would encourage them to watch out for their neighbors, keep an eye out for a senior who lives alone, share a smile, a greeting, let them know people care, especially during the pandemic. To the seniors I won’t see, my only regret with retirement is that I couldn’t see them all under one roof and tell them how much I enjoyed working for them, advocating, and making sure that programs were relevant and utilized. The tears I shed on Wednesday were for them.”