Doris Gentry’s life is filled with doing for others: public service, teaching future foster parents, hosting a regular TV show, chairing fundraisers and community events.
She’s also run twice for state assembly and, along with her husband Jim, has provided a foster home for more than 100 teenaged boys since 1995.
“I’m a type-A work alcoholic. I would much rather be working than relaxing,” Gentry said, with a serious look on her usually smiling face.
A childhood of homelessness
Now 57, Gentry says she and her older sister pretty much grew up without a home of their own.
Their mother would “pawn my sis and I off on friends or neighbors,” Gentry recalled.
“We were living in Florida. Mom would tell a friend or neighbor her mother, who was living in Maryland, was sick and could they take us girls in for a few days – week, while she went to take care of her mother,” Gentry said.
“Of course my grandma wasn’t sick. My Mom would call the neighbors right before she was supposed to pick us up and say she needed a few more days,” Gentry continued. “Then she’d call again a few days later.
“Finally the people who we were staying with would tell her to either pick up her kids or they would call the cops.
“That’s all it took. Within hours she would show up at their doorstep. She used that story time and time again to dump my sister and I on someone,” Gentry said.
“There were times when my sis and I slept under a bridge. We didn’t know where our mother was. We were homeless."
Rattlesnake for dinner
“There was a time when the three of us were living in a cheap motel in Arizona – the floors were dirt. It was in the middle of the desert. My mom got arrested and was in jail for a month,” Gentry said.
“The neighbors looked out for us. I remember when they would get home from work at night they would go out and shoot rattlesnakes. They would skin the snakes and cook the meat and share it with us. I must have eaten rattlesnake cooked every way possible.”
School of hard knocks
Gentry said she seldom attended school. “The only time I went to school like regular kids was when I lived with my grandma. That was for my fourth, seventh and eighth grades.”
Valuing an education, Gentry said, she got her GED when she was 22. By then she’d been in the work force for a good part of her life.
“Starting when I was 14, I always worked, most of the time two jobs,” she said.
Although Gentry quickly admits she had a “rough” childhood, she also believes it was an education in itself.
“You know that book Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? That’s me, except my book is titled 'Everything I need to know I learned from being homeless,'" she said.
Gentry credits her positive outlook, her determination to succeed and her “very high IQ” as her lifesavers.
“I was able to think and plan my path that gratefully led to where I am now,” she said.
“She is really cool”
The Gentrys have four grown children. At this time, they have only one foster child, Kiwi Olea, 18, who has been with the family for several months.
“She (Gentry) is really cool. She puts herself out there to make sure I’m comfortable. She makes me feel like I am one of the family,” Kiwi said.
“I don’t think I have ever seen anyone like her, who can do a whole bunch of different things at once, and do them good. She listens to me, doesn’t lecture, but gives me good advice.”
“Doris is certainly no wallflower”
Along with her many other projects, Gentry is the Foster & Kincare Education Program specialist, teaching future and current foster parents at .
John Pearson, who serves with Gentry on the board of the Foster Kids Fund in Napa, called her “the most high-energy person I know. She gives 110 percent.
“Doris is great at arranging activities for the numerous fundraisers she chairs. That woman is totally committed to her projects. I, frankly, don’t know when she finds time to sleep,” Pearson said.
“Doris is certainly no wallflower,” said Shari Erickson, co-chair of the fund.
“She gets you involved with her projects whether you want to or not. She has that charisma,” Erickson said.
In addition to being a foster child advocate, Gentry has run twice for state assembly as a Republican, chairs the annual , serves on the Republican Central Committee, organizes a multitude of Napa Valley fundraisers and has her own TV show every other Wednesday night on , called “On the Edge with Doris.”
When is this ball of energy going to retire and kick back?
“Oh, never,” she said with determination. “I still have far too much I still want to do. And as long as I have room for the kids, I will always be a foster mom.”