Watercolor teacher Stephen Crooks of Halethorpe talks about teaching the class at the Arbutus Senior Center of the Baltimore County Department of Aging in Arbutus on Wednesday, July 13, 2016.
In the last few weeks two of the most famous and creative people of the past century passed away: architect I.M. Pei, at 102, and writer Herman Wouk, just 10 days before reaching 104.
I had a personal, albeit tangential, connection, to each. During the mid-'60s, when I lived in New York City, I tutored I.M. Pei's nephew, 11-year-old Gordon Sze, "for enrichment," said his mother, Pei's sister. One time, Pei stopped by their Park Avenue apartment, and I was briefly introduced to him. In 1997, I toured one of I.M. Pei's grand designs, the Louvre Museum Pyramid in Paris. It was definitely grand.
Although I never met Herman Wouk in person, I did read all of his books. My favorite was "Marjorie Morningstar" and I remember also loving the movie, starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly. Although Wood tragically drowned at age 43, Gene Kelly, one of our greatest dancer-choreographer-actors, lived to 84. He passed away in 1996.
By By Marie Marciano Gullard and For The Baltimore Sun
May 09, 2014 at 12:00 AM
According to census data, there were 86,248 centenarians living in the United States in July 2017. Happily, for me and my friends, research on aging is going on daily. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has an AgeLab, headed by scientist Joseph Coughlin, "to encourage and incubate new technologies and products and services for an ever-larger market of aging people," explains Adam Gopnik in a recent New Yorker article. Similarly, at Harvard, molecular biologists are taking a genetic-engineering approach "to make people live better" and possibly longer.
Articles on aging as well as health newsletters abound. Nearly every major medical school produces a newsletter focusing on health, especially on health over 50. The two periodicals I've been subscribing to are the "Harvard Woman's Health Letter" and "Consumer Reports on Health."
Indeed, I am surrounded by wonderful examples of aging seniors. My friend Sita Smith, almost 89, still drives — from her retirement home at Broadmead to her hairdresser in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood. She subscribes to Everyman Theatre and the BSO and still misses the Lyric Opera. Recently, at a Sunday afternoon BSO concert, I was amazed at the number of buses from at least eight different retirement residences; each bus was full of obviously cultured seniors.
Suzanne Swisher and Dan Swisher talk at the home that is being custom-built for them in Westminster. (Video by Karl Merton Ferron)
I regularly have lunch with Jack Kinstlinger, who recently turned 88, and lives with his wife Marilyn. When Jack was CEO at KCI, a large local engineering firm, he hired me to conduct writing and editing workshops. Jack, who retired from KCI in his '80s, is involved in many intellectual activities and in his spare time writes letters to the editor of The Sun. His words of wisdom on aging: "It's a challenging and sometimes scary experience … demanding an incredible amount of strength, courage and optimism."
As a senior myself, I would agree, especially with "optimism." I sometimes wish I could have used the accumulated knowledge and experiences I have now back when I was in my 30s, and 40s and 50s. Those seniors who remain active and think positively, who see the good in people and are kind and generous, seem to lead the best lives. No one ever has it all, but focusing on the best of ourselves and taking good care of ourselves is important. Being young at heart, if not in age, is key.
But life for seniors wasn't always this good. I still remember my two grandmothers, each of whom lived beyond 90, seeming old at 60 — before routine hip and knee replacements and other modern medical miracles. Make-up, I am sure, was considered anathema to my grandmothers; however, my mother, who lived to 99 and nine months, not only wore make-up, but would only use specific brands.
"Ponds cold cream, every night," is what 101-year-old Pauline told my mall-walking friend Mary Alice, a part-time caregiver, when she asked how Pauline managed to have such a lovely unlined face.
Today, we see exemplary seniors in nearly every walk of life. For example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, running for president among a host of talented Democrats, is, at 69, younger than the two most popular candidates: Joe Biden, 76, and Bernie Sanders, 77.
Finally, there is Glenda Jackson, who at 83 is now playing "King Lear" on Broadway. In the role of the tragic octogenarian ruler, who suffered from dementia, Ms. Jackson is alert and talented and brilliant.
Thus, in 2019, I say "hooray for seniors and especially centenarians."
Lynne Agress, who teaches in the Odyssey Program of Johns Hopkins, is president of BWB-Business Writing At Its Best Inc. and author of "The Feminine Irony" and "Working With Words in Business and Legal Writing." Her email is email@example.com.