Life Lessons from a 99 Year Old

Gertrude and daughters

In this photo Gertrude Brown’s 71 year old daughter is on her left and her 69 year old daughter is on her right. Yes that vivacious, beautiful woman in the middle is 99 years old!

Right now Gertrude is wintering in Florida. She lives by herself both in Florida and Massachusetts. She plays golf, drives her car, plays bridge 2 or 3 times a week (only for 2-3 hours now though), goes to concerts and movies, and shops on her own. She has a very active social calendar. She loves being busy and so consequently fills her days with lots of things that as she says ‘interests her’.

Gertrude lives in my condo building. I asked to be introduced to her to see if she would be willing to talk with me about her life and to help me discover life lessons that I might be able to share with my Baby Boomer blog readers. I feel so lucky that I got to spend this time with Gertrude Brown.

Four Life Lessons from Gertrude

1. As you age, you have the opportunity to build a very broad age range of friends. Gertrude says her friends are ageless to her as she is to them. Most of her very closest friends range in age from  50-97 years old.

Sidebar – for me this would mean my closest friends would be 15 -64 yrs old. I thought I was cool because one of my closest friends is 44 yrs old. So silly.  How about you- what if you practiced Gertrude’s 49 yr friendship age span – how old would your closest friends be? 

2. One key piece of advice that Gertrude had for us Baby Boomers  is to not let people discourage you from reinventing yourself or doing something that you feel is important no matter what age you are. Follow through on your thoughts, and what your heart and intuition tells you.

Gertrude thought late in life that she might want to become a psychologist and was discouraged from doing so. 

3. “Anything you do, you don’t regret. It’s what you don’t do that you regret.”

4. Gertrude is invigorated by constantly trying to learn new things, socializing with people and keeping very active. It makes life interesting and keeps you interesting.

Some of Gertrude Oldest Memories

  •  Gertrude can remember an incident when she was 3 years old (1916). She followed this man who was selling rags and bones on a horse and buggy. People would use those to make soap. She got lost and a neighborhood hero found her and brought her home. She reported that this gentleman later worked in an important position under President Eisenhower.
  •  Gertrude remembers the First Armistice Day celebration in 1919.
  •  In 1927,when Gertrude was 14 yrs. old she took her two brothers into Boston to see Charles Lindbergh in a parade after his famous transatlantic flight crossing.
  •  I asked Gertrude what technology inventions she felt had the greatest influence on our lives. She said she was not sure how she wanted to answer that but that reminded her of the time that her uncle came home with one of those crystal radio sets. My research indicates that was probably sometime before 1920.

A Sampling of Gertrude’s Life and Lifestyle

Gertrude’s husband died at 85 – 20 yrs ago. He was a lawyer.

A good example of Gertrude’s humor (and I quote) “My brother and I always ate not because we were hungry but God forbid so we didn’t get hungry.”

Gertrude talked a lot about the fact that she is very independent. She said that her mother was also very independent. Her mother lived to be 99.

Gertrude remarked that she is always thinking about something she finds interesting.

Gertrude had an I-Pad next to the chair where she was sitting. She said her grandson had given it to her and that she used it for what was important to her. She said she enjoys it but she doesn’t plan to sit staring at it for hours.

As you can see from the photo – Gertrude looks like she is maybe in her early 80’s. In 2006, when she was 92 she had kidney cancer and had to have her kidney removed. When her doctor contacted a surgeon about operating on her, he said I don’t usually operate on people over 90. Her doctor said you must think about this woman as being in her seventies – that’s how I view her.

Gertrude graduated from Tufts in 1934. She majored in Latin and German.

Gertrude accomplished a lot of important work over the years on a voluntary basis. She said they would never pay you to do such things back then. A few examples include being the editor of the women’s auxiliary newspaper at Beth Israel hospital. She ran a literary group at her temple.  She was a docent (an expert tour guide) at the De Cordova museum in Boston.

Gertrude said that she does not think she would like being in West Palm Beach if she did not have the Society of Four Arts center that she could go to for her entertainment and enjoyment.

The Society of the Four Arts is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1936 by a prominent group of Palm Beach residents to meet the cultural needs of the growing resort community. Its objective is to encourage an appreciation of art, music, drama and literature through the presentation of notable exhibitions, concerts, lectures, films and the maintenance of a library.

Gertrude was recently playing golf by herself, since her golf dates had abandoned her, when she noticed a young man coming to the tee. She told him he could play through and he said oh no he wanted to played with her. He had seen her last tee shot and fairway swings and was impressed. So, she ended up playing 10 holes with him! She asked him how old he was and whether he had a girlfriend or not. He said he was 35 years old. She told him he better not show his girlfriend the photo he had just taken of the two of them – it might make her jealous. He said indeed it will. “I can’t tell you just how so, so jealous she is going to be”.

Speaking of feeling jealous – are you just so jealous that it was me and not you that got to spend this wonderful time with Gertrude Brown?

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