She was born and raised in Danville, one of seven children of Ollie Mae Napier and the late Rev. Morris Augustus Napier, who served as pastor for many years of a Pentecostal church in Somerset. Her brother, the Rev. Tim Napier, a former longtime employee of Northpoint Training Center, now serves as pastor of the same church, while also running Kentucky Tours, a Danville-based tour bus company.
Lydia Napier left Danville High School in 1967 after finishing her sophomore year. She entered the Job Corps in Pennsylvania and took training as a nurse's aide. Her first job was to work in a social services capacity with residents of a local government housing complex for poor elderly people.
Began caretaker career in 1969
In 1969, she returned to Danville and began her career as a caretaker, her first job being as nurse's aide at the Danville hospital. With two breaks, she has worked as a nurse's aide and caretaker at the hospital, nursing homes, on a private-duty basis in homes and now as a member of the staff of Caregivers by Linda, her employer for the last five years.
One of the two times Napier left her chosen field was a departure that made headlines and, according to Napier, improved employment opportunities for women working or wanting to work in male-dominated fields.
From 1979 to 1981, she was a state Department of Highways employee at the department's Boyle County garage. She was the first female ever hired for the state's Boyle garage but was fired not long after being hired. She lost her job when her superiors noticed she could not drive a standard, or stick-shift, truck. She sued the state and, under a court order, returned to the garage for 19 months.
Napier's case drew national headlines, and she became something of a celebrity.
"I felt that my case opened doors for women in occupations that were once totally male," she said. "I went to Washington, D.C., to speak at a press conference held at a national meeting about affirmative action and improving employment opportunities for women."
The other time Napier left her nurse's aide career was from 1988 to 1992 when she served as a teacher's aide in a Head Start program in Danville.
"I loved working with these kids. They were poor and their parents, in most cases, weren't well educated, but they were eager to learn, and I was determined to help them get a jump start on their educations," she said. "I loved working with those little kids."
Loved working with the elderly
But Napier loved working with the elderly even more, and resumed her caretaking career on a full-time basis - she was doing it on a part-time basis even while working as a teacher's aide - after her stint with Head Start.
She's been in the homes and hospital rooms of elderly of all backgrounds since then. And she also has been taking care of family and friends on her own time.
"Working with the elderly is like working with children, in a lot of cases," she said. "Many of them revert to children. You treat them with the respect that an adult is entitled, but you understand that many of them have child-like needs and wants, and you tend to those needs like a mama does for her children.
"My nurse's aide work and caretaking has really been a 24-7 proposition, some of it paid, some of it not. I have compassion for the elderly and I've enjoyed every moment of taking care of them."
Enjoyed the often difficult and dirty duties involved in taking care of sick elderly people? Enjoyed the sorrow and sadness that comes with the death of a patient or client?
"Yes, enjoy is the word that describes my feeling about my work," said Napier. "Sure, there are some duties that are not pleasant, but you do them because the person you take care of needs you to do them so they can live.
And you are sad when you have to say goodbye, but the reason you're sad is because you have gotten close to them, you have enjoyed taking care of them.
"You are trained not to become too attached to the people you care for, but I end up loving them all, I end up enjoying them all," she said. "You have to enjoy what I do because there is not a lot of money in my field. But I have experiences that money can't buy."