Just a few weeks ago, at the celebrity Manhattan hot spot Michael’s, there she was, the unstoppable Liz Smith, ebullient as ever as she hosted a reception for her championed charity, Literary Partners. This is a fantastic not-for-profit devoted to bringing the gift of reading to thousands of adults who need a helping hand. Also there was the great novelist, Barbara Taylor Bradford, one of the charity’s most devoted supporters, a ‘woman of substance’ with a generous giving spirit.
That night, as I observed Liz Smith, I couldn’t help but notice how absolutely young she is–in her thinking, appearance, and energy level. While she jokingly refers to herself as “the 2000-year-old gossip columnist,” she’s a mere 87, though she looks decades younger.
And while many her age are physically ailing, marooned in retirement homes, or at best golfing or playing cards, this peripatetic wonder remains fully engaged, not missing a cultural event or party in NY while reigning over her syndicated newspaper column and penning her daily wowowow.com column too.
Watching her in action that night led me to think about the heroine of my upcoming book, my dear friend, Pearl, the octogenarian down the hall who became a lifelong friend and companion to me and my dog, Katie. I wrote all about Pearl’s profound influence on my life in Family Circle’s Granny Down The Hall, which described the journey from friendship to family.
Pearl, of course, never achieved the glamorous and accomplished life of Liz Smith—though I realized that they both had a few things in common: Physical vitality, a caring heart, tons of friends, curiosity, humor, mental acuity, a modern no-nonsense attitude, and more than anything, great interest in life, refusing to yield to our culture’s ideal that retirement from work and life is something to be desired.
“I would never retire,” Liz told me a few years ago when I interviewed her for a magazine piece titled “Young At Heart—The Secrets of a Happy Life,” which also featured Sophia Loren and Betty White. “Retirement is ridiculous. I’d have to be too sick not to work. I hope I just keep working until the day I die.”
As she observed, age has its advantages: “Being older means knowing who you are; having the confidence to say what you think. It’s a big relief not to have so many ambitions and yearnings. I’ve been lucky, very healthy. My mother lived to be 95. I honestly don’t dwell on death. If there’s an afterlife, O.K.; if not, O.K. I think the way to stay young is to stay interested and to keep working. I’m essentially a pretty disciplined person. My deadlines are what keep my going. You must feel as if you have your whole future ahead of you–I do!”
Hearing her say this reminded me of an article I wrote a few years ago titled The Secrets Of The Centenarians (.pdf), which described the keys to living to 100, a mindset that combines positive thinking and a fighting spirit. That’s Liz!
“I try not to get into a rut, or think in a rut. I can’t imagine being bored when there are all those books out there and movies and TV. If an older person is depressed, rescue a pet, help your local charity, work at your church or a soup kitchen.”
And in parting, “I’m sure Mother Teresa never had any qualms about her self-worth—she was too busy!”