This story is part of the CelebrEighty Series written by Judy Katz…Some people never live large. Ruth did: right smack up to and past her 100th birthday. Wait till you hear her story! Every word is true. I know because of who told me. Recently, I was contacted out of the blue by a woman named Bonnie, who goes by the handle “akaRadioRed.” This moniker makes sense: she produces and hosts a popular weekly radio show and is a redhead. Her show, Read My Lips Radio on voiceamerica.com, features “Cool Conversations with Creatives.” https://www.voiceamerica.com/show/3958/read-my-lips-cool-conversations-with-creatives. Good to know I’m one of those she considers creative, as she has interviewed some famous people.
I gratefully accepted and, in due course, was a panelist on her roundtable-style radio show. After I talked about my reasons for writing my weekly blog, CelebrEighty, explaining that I wanted to help change the external and internal conversations about aging, Red interjected a story about her mother, Ruth.
Red told me that her mother was born on February 1, 1917. Ruth was the youngest of 5 children by 15 years. She was so rebellious that, as a kid, she once took scissors and cut off her long curls. Her explanation: she didn’t want curls anymore. At ten, she took piano lessons for only about six months and became a talented pianist her entire life. If you hummed a few bars, she would sit down and fill the room with music. Her neighbors complained that she didn’t play the piano often enough! She even played the piano for the Shalom club in her co-op apartment complex the day before she died.
Ruth attended the University of Pennsylvania Nursing School, earning her RN degree. That led to meeting her future husband, a radiologist. She was assigned to care for him at the hospital, where he had surgery on his hand. They started dating and fell in love. She gave up nursing when she married, then raised two daughters, served as President of her temple’s Sisterhood, and created an antiques business. Her husband took Polaroid pictures of her antique art glass and lamps to advertise in The Antique Trader magazine. The couple had a happy and devoted fifty-three-year marriage.
After her beloved husband passed away in 1995, Ruth sold the family home and bought herself a lovely high-floor co-op apartment. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors in a corner of the living room created a perfect place for her baby grand piano, her beautiful antiques were on display, and there was a glorious terrace view where you could see ‘forever’ at night. Red said, “It was like looking out at an airfield with sparkling lights. Ruth was certain she could see boats in the distance with her binoculars.”
Ruth was petite and in great shape. Every week she went to have her hair and nails done. She was a ‘blonde’ until the end. Red explained, “After my father died, my mother decided to date and met very interesting, charming men. One day at her ‘snowbird home’ in Florida, two boyfriends, Max and Jack, came over at the same time and took her to dinner together. The guys spent the entire dinner interviewing each other. They fought over who got to take her home. Ruth was in her late eighties at that point. Ruth enjoyed the company of men, very different from her widowed friends who chose not to date after their husbands died.”
Ruth and Bonnie co-hosted a cable access show together from 2000 to 2017 — from the time Ruth was 83—called “Senior Moments: The Happy Ones.” Bonnie says, “We had guests who were singers, dancers, Ms. Sr. America pageant contestants, authors, financial experts, and retired executives. They had to be over the age of the Long Island Expressway speed limit, 55, to be on the show. I would open the show with this: “Everyone says our future is our children, but to me, it is the seniors because they have all the knowledge, passion, and worldview we need to inspire our future.”
They hosted over 225 shows, and Ruth was the star. As her daughter reports, “She went into the Green Room, met the guests, charmed the heck out of them, then we did an impromptu, improvised opening dialogue that was just us having fun riffing. Guests would ask if we rehearsed our shows. Of course, we didn’t. I would say my name and an opening remark, and then Ruth responded with a made-up middle name – her real middle name was Bette. She had an outrageous sense of humor.”
The last show was for Ruth’s 100th birthday celebration, with a dozen previous guests talking about Ruth’s special qualities. Ruth also had an uncanny aptitude for seeing people for who they really were and quietly discerning any façade-masked intentions while maintaining her friendly disposition. As the adage goes, she “suffered no fools.”
She took her final breath in her own bed 45 days later, after catching what she thought was “just a cold,” with Red by her side.
When Ruth heard about someone who passed away at age 85 – 95, she commented, “Too young.” She had female friends who were 98 to 101, some outliving their husbands by 20 years. Her best friend Gertrude died a few years later at 104. Bonnie jokingly suggests their longevity must be due to “something special in the water” because Ruth and her friends did not grow up in the ’no red meat, no white bread, no sugary soda, no saturated fats era.’
When her family asked Ruth if she wanted an aide to help with household tasks, Ruth replied instantly, “You mean you want to PAY someone to sit around while I get dressed, put on my makeup and jewelry, eat my morning cereal and banana, watch the world news on TV, then go to play bridge or mahjong and play the piano for my friends? No thank you!”
Ruth lived to 100 years, one month and 15 days.
By all accounts, Ruth was a true force of nature. When she entered a room, you knew you had just met someone special. Rest in peace, you fabulous creature—a role model for all of us CelebrEighties, CelebrNineties, and beyond. Living large doesn’t get much better than this.