Like many of her generation, 77-year-old Freddie Smith says she grew up in a society noticeably different from the one we live in today, one in which women were marginalized and dependent.

Freddie was born and raised in Walland, TN (in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains), married young and moved to Atlanta, GA with her new husband to start a family. She shares a son and daughter with her first husband, but after 20 years they divorced. As a single mother who was never able to finish college, the commanding Freddie—in both life and stature, she’s six feet tall and still wears high heels—decided that, “If I was going to make a man’s wages, I would have to work a ‘mans’ job.”

To support herself and her family, Freddie hung dry wall and drove a tractor. Both were well-paying jobs with retirement benefits, but when those companies went belly-up so did Freddie’s retirement. Through odd jobs and a great deal of persistence, on her own behalf, the always determined Freddie learned what true independence meant, and she loved it.

After moving back to Tennessee with her children in 2003, Freddie remarried for several years before being widowed. That’s when she began to struggle again. Freddie inherited her favorite aunt’s house after she passed and found herself on the verge of losing that home. The money she’d wisely set aside to pay her taxes was selflessly leant to a family member in need and never repaid, leaving Freddie in a precarious situation. Refusing to burden her children and with no options left, Freddie filed for disability and started driving a cab to make ends meet. She confided in her cousin who, as luck would have it, knew something about reverse mortgages.

The now fiercely independent Freddie finds it hard to trust others readily. But Freddie also found empowerment in her reverse mortgage and as a self-proclaimed advocate for women she has become a huge supporter of reverse mortgages and for single women in particular. “I have talked to a lot of people about reverse mortgages, it’s important that they know. Women my age weren’t taught to be independent. I just wish I’d figured it out sooner,” says Freddie.

Once her reverse mortgage was finalized, Freddie took half of the money and set it aside to pay her taxes, so that she would never again get into the type of debacle she did before. The other half was earmarked for a used car. Freddie lived without a car for several years. In fact, up until three years ago she was still riding her own motorcycle. (She is very involved with the Legion Riders who support and celebrate children’s hospitals, education, veterans and Gold Star families.) She currently lives off her Social Security, but the reverse mortgage has afforded Freddie the flexibility needed to live worry free.

Now retired, Freddie spends her days working on her art—she prefers landscapes and acrylics but jumps at any opportunity to be creative—and participating in Legion Riders events.

“The benefits of my reverse mortgage and living on Social Security are better for me as a single woman than a married one.” More than anything, Freddie wants other women to know how empowering a reverse mortgage can be. And even though her circumstances were dire, Freddie truly relishes the freedom her reverse mortgage has allowed her to maintain.