Billie Jean King now serves up well-being for senior living company

Thirty-nine time Grand Slam champion, life-long fighter for equality and all-around great person.

That was the introduction for Billie Jean King recently at a sneak peek of Crestavilla, Atria Senior Living’s latest community in Orange County.

King has long been a warrior for social justice. In the ’70s she fought for equal pay on the tennis circuit (dramatized in last year’s movie “Battle of the Sexes.”) In the ’80s, she became a torchbearer for the gay community.

Now she has taken on the mantle of promoting quality of life for the mushrooming population of seniors like herself (the California Dept. of Finance says that by 2040, it is projected that nearly one in four Orange County residents will be 65 or older). Her official title: well-being coach for Atria’s 225 senior living communities in North America.

“Hi, kids,” King said to a cheering crowd who had gathered on the rooftop deck of Crestavilla with flutes of champagne, a flamenco guitarist and views for miles.

King talked about the days when her firefighter dad and her mom, who sold Avon and Tupperware, used to drive her from their home in Long Beach to Orange County for tennis tournaments when she was a kid.

“My mom always said, ‘Billie, whatever you do, you’ve got to keep moving. If you stop moving, it’s over.’”

And at 74, that remains her philosophy.

“It’s about living, looking forward, not just backward. It’s about connecting, community. Boy, are you in for a treat. Can you believe this place?”

No, was the general consensus.

Crestavilla, which is in Laguna Niguel, looks more like a cruise ship at port than a senior living community. The Spanish Colonial Revival property has a heated saltwater swimming pool, a hot tub and a poolside lounge serving cocktails and snacks.

“We want you to live, not just sit here and waste away, ” King told her audience, a chunk of whom will be moving in to Crestavilla when it officially opens in July. “Everyone thinks we’re out to pasture. It’s not true. I feel like I’m just getting started.”

All this doesn’t come cheap. Apartments (independent living, assisted living and memory care) start at $6,600 a month and top out at $15,000 a month. Some of Crestavilla’s 201 apartments are still available — if you have the means.

King found her latest role as an active-senior advocate quite by chance. Her longtime partner Ilana Kloss’ mom Ruth once lived at an Atria property on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. King and Kloss liked the energy of the place so much they used to go there to hang out, catch a movie or have dinner.

After Ruth died four years ago, Kloss and King moved into the property themselves for six months while their apartment was being renovated.

That’s how King met Atria CEO John Moore. Equally passionate about their views on active aging, their conversations naturally turned into collaboration. King develops resident exercise programs, activities and outings. She periodically flies around the country, chatting up residents to see what they like, what they don’t like, what they want more of or less of. And she says they have no trouble speaking up.

Often she hears about how their kids made them move in — and now they’re glad they did.

“They didn’t have community before,” King said. “They were isolated. Some kids don’t want to be bothered with their parents, to be quite frank. Here they’re not waiting for their kids to come pick them up. They’re gaining independence, not losing it.”

“It’s assisted living, not assisted dying,” Moore said.

Lori Basheda is a contributor to Times Community News.