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.
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 to her hairdresser. 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.
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 Baltimore 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.”
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.”