Renee Tims won’t naturally brag about her accomplishments, her successes, her love of collecting luxury cars or the empire that she’s built in South Central Los Angeles. To her, everything that she’s done since 1984, when she took her first job in social services, has been about doing right by others.
And yet, her story has that made-for-television, feel-good, Lifetime trademark to it. With a huge heart for the developmentally challenged adult community, she’s taken on the enormous responsibility of caring for individuals who can’t quite manage by themselves. Her group homes, daytime activity centers, specialized medical care and, moreover her modus operandi – “If it’s not good enough for me, it’s not good enough for you,” Tims said – have ushered in a new standard of care for a vulnerable population often living on the margins of society.
Tims casually mentions her “homes” in conversation, referring to an extensive network of supervised and staff-supported residential communities for developmentally challenged adults. Where did these homes come from? Oh, she bought some of them, Tims said, while the state of California has asked her to take over other homes from time to time. “When a home is failing due to poor management, they (the State) have asked me to intervene and bring the facility up to my standard,” Tims said matter-of-factly. “My standard is far beyond the minimum requirements for care.” Perhaps we should call it the ‘Tims Standard of Cared-for Living’
Case in point, in 2011 Tims purchased land and built, from the ground up, a daytime activity center complete with a bowling alley and half-regulation-size basketball court. “Our individuals – we used to say patients or clients, but now we say individuals – were already spending a lot of time at other bowling alleys, but a regular bowling alley isn’t always conducive to the type of environment our individuals need. So, now we have our own.” Every day, both her individuals – who call her Mom – as well as other individuals from the developmentally challenged adult community gather to bowl, play ball or spend time on other activities at her center.
But it’s not just about keeping people busy. Tims’ ever-growing staff provides medical care, namely for diabetic patients, help and training on basic survival skills like scheduling bills or making and keeping appointments. All these things seem trivial, but they make a big quality of life difference to people,” she said.
Around the time that she built the daytime activity center, Tims started down two other, unrelated paths that ended up becoming completely intertwined as part of her reputation and iconography in her community. At the time, she had been driving Bentley convertibles, but Jen Stroup at O’Gara Coach in Beverly Hills turned her on to her next love, Rolls-Royce. Tims was hooked and the Rolls-Royce became part of her brand image.
At the same time, Tims was considering expanding into mortuary services. She had buried both of her parents, as well as extended family members and a few friends, and she was disappointed with each of her experiences with funeral homes. “I knew I could do this so much better, and with more compassion” she remarked. She researched the industry and its niche requirements, but came up short when it came to making connections and friends within the actual mortuary services community. “I was told it was a ‘Good Ole Boys Club,’” she said. “And I absolutely found that to be the case.”
With persistence and determination, she opened her boutique mortuary services center nearly 10 years later. But instead of buying limousines to transport bereaving family members, she looked at her growing collection of Rolls-Royce automobiles and decided that her clients would enjoy the best of the best, too, even if just for one day. Since the day her funeral home opened, every bereaving family member has been transported in a Rolls-Royce automobile. “Our clients consistently tell us that they found themselves able to enjoy the day – the celebration of a life – rather than feeling sad or depressed, or worse, disappointed,” Tims said.
Suddenly the same funeral directors who had shut her out just a few years ago were calling her to borrow a Rolls-Royce or to ask for her her input, her growing notable boutique mortuary services spread around town, and fast. “I’m not petty. Not at all,” Tims said as she chuckled. “But that’s my trademark, my brand, my niche. The answer – to those men who made this project as hard as possible – is always, ‘Sorry, we're not available.’”
Rather, she prefers to be known for her overly generous nature; loaning the luxury automobiles to high-achieving local students for Prom Weekend or using her time to consult on care projects or end of life services. “Looking at it matter-of-factly, I like to make an impression in all aspects of business I put my mind to. For instance, I’m the only female-owned –black female-owned – mortuary service in the world using Rolls-Royce automobiles as my regular fleet,” Tims said. Rolls-Royce of North America noted as much, granting her Phantom Phenom status in recognition of her contributions to her community.
While work is one of her many passions, Tims also has two adult daughters, who are also featured in this edition of WOMEN+POWER for their work with and contribution to the Lupus Foundation. To her, family is important and she celebrates those mother-daughter moments, as well as her love of being a grandmother.