Malcolm Mcallister holds a special place in the story of Heart2Heart.
It wasn’t just that he developed close-knit friendships with our founder, Sean Stepelton, and our board president, Kim Kent.
It wasn’t just his exuberant personality. Nor the way his booming voice filled a room with joy.
Malcolm was special because of the way he always cared for others.
“He was a great friend to a lot of the residents here,” said Julie Riggs, the activities director at The Savoy at Fort Lauderdale, where he lived. “He was full of light and energy.”
Today, we remember Malcolm, who died on Nov. 9, and his role in the growth of Heart2Heart.
The Man, the Legend
In his younger years, Malcolm owned a flower shop and a home in the mountains of the Carolinas. At the Savoy, he loved spending time outside, enjoying the flowers, plants and birds.
He was a gifted bagpiper and proud of his Scottish heritage. Even though he didn’t read music, Malcolm could hear a song once and then play it by ear perfectly. He performed around South Florida with a bagpipe group based out of Miami.
Malcolm loved good food. He used to cook in the earlier part of his stay at The Savoy.
“He would order in food and treat some of the other residents that were his friends,” Julie said. “He just enjoyed a good meal.”
You could often hear his voice through the walls of The Savoy, she said. Malcolm often encouraged his fellow residents to come to the services led by local churches at the care center.
“His purpose in that home was to bring others closer to God,” said Sean. “That’s what kept him alive.”
He also was the reigning wheelchair champion at The Savoy.
“That was a great source of pride for him,” Kim remembered with a laugh.
The Friend to All
In 2017 Malcolm moved to The Savoy, which was called Manor Oaks at the time, in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
He was living at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when the storm knocked out the air conditioning. As the heat rose to dangerous temperatures, 12 residents died before the facility was evacuated.
Malcolm was friends with those who had died. The incident deeply impacted him, and he struggled with depression.
“He really battled through some stuff to be the happy person he was,” said Kim. “He would help other people who had issues like that. He always had a smile and a prayer for someone who was hurting.”
Before he moved in, Kim and Sean were already visiting other residents. However, Malcolm made a point to seek Kim out.
“He pursued me, and before he knew it, he became one of the people I would visit,” Kim said.
The Beta Tester
During the lockdowns of Covid-19 pandemic, Heart2Heart was looking for care center residents to test out the new iPads for Seniors program. Because of his outgoing personality and sharp mind, Kim recommended Malcolm.
“He thought it was so cool,” she said.
Once Malcolm had access to an iPad, Sean began connecting with him every week.
“He really opened up to me about things that happened in his life,” Sean said. “He was very upbeat and positive. He was always wanting to know what was going on in my life when we would talk.”
Sean had connected with other seniors before. His visits to care centers and the loneliness he saw prompted him to start Heart2Heart Senior Outreach of South Florida in 2010.
However, with Malcolm, he developed a close friendship. He was able to explain the power of the iPad program to the Heart2Heart board of directors, who continued to support new innovations on behalf of seniors
One day, after a particularly rousing discussion about good steak, Sean promised to bring Malcolm the best steak in town. He personally delivered a ribeye from Capitol Grille and all of Malcolm’s favorite sides.
“I watched him eat every bite of it,” Sean said. “He couldn’t stop talking about that meal for the next month.”
For the last two years, Malcolm suffered from bad stomach pain, which especially concerned him because he was a stomach cancer survivor. Despite numerous visits with the on-staff doctor, he didn’t have a solution for his pain.
Kim knew Malcolm’s few family members didn’t live nearby and didn’t know what he was dealing with. She asked Heart2Heart’s new patient advocate, Maria Purgavie, to see what she could do.
Maria made an appointment with a specialist for him and spoke with the care facility’s director of nursing to ensure they set up transportation for him. She wanted to make sure he was getting the help he’d needed.
“He didn’t want to be on pain medication anymore,” Maria said. “He’s a people person, and he wanted to be up and active.”
The specialist Maria discovered internal bleeding, and Malcolm stayed at the hospital for a few days. Maria continued to schedule appointments for him and follow up afterwards.
A few weeks ago, Maria visited Malcolm, and she knew something was wrong.
“I walked up and he was just lying there like he didn’t recognize me,” Maria said. “When I started talking to him, he snapped out of it and was like, ‘Maria? Is that you?’”
At the hospital after that, doctors discovered fluid on his lungs. Malcolm’s roommate told Maria that the previous night, Malcolm’s oxygen stopped working and he had difficulty breathing.
During one of Maria’s visits at the hospital, Malcolm was convinced he wasn’t going home. He was so surprised and grateful when Maria showed up to check on him. He hadn’t realized that someone truly cared about him still, and he told her to say goodbye to his friends for him.
Malcolm did make it back to The Savoy after that visit, but he was never quite back to his old self.
Sean also visited Malcolm as he was in and out of the hospital, once visiting him in a hospice facility. He said he never got a good answer as to why they moved Malcolm out of that level of care.
He was planning to visit Malcolm on Nov. 9, the day Heart2Heart was hosting its Red Gala event. When he couldn’t make it, he decided to see him the following day.
Unfortunately, Malcolm passed away that night — the same night Heart2Heart CEO Juan Gallo made a point to highlight his relationship with Kim and Sean during his speech.
Juan later wrote that Malcolm had been like an undercover agent for Heart2Heart, helping his fellow residents from the inside of the facility.
Julie has been at The Savoy for 31 years. Even after all that time, one of the hardest parts of her job is losing someone special like Malcolm.
Malcolm’s friends at The Savoy were taking his death better than she was, Julie said.
“He was not in good shape when he came back from the hospital,” she said. “They realized that it was time, and he’s not suffering anymore.”
The Savoy hosted a memorial service on Nov. 16. Julie said she planned to display a painting of Malcolm playing his bagpipes from the cliffs of Scotland — inspired by a cover of a real magazine that featured him.
“I can’t thank Heart2Heart enough,” she said. “They really were his family.”