For a 97 and ½ year old phenom, Natalie is needlessly modest. She says, “I’m a nice, ordinary Jewish matron. I’m not a mover and shaker; I’m a participant in life.”
Natalie’s husband Raymond died in 2006. “I had a 63- year- plus great marriage. I joke that when I get to Heaven, I’m gonna catch Raymond again. I only hope this time he doesn’t want a redhead.”
While many nonagenarians suffered through the Great Depression, Natalie didn’t. Her grandfather and father were successful woolens dealers who sold out of the stock market “at the right time.” She graduated from Goucher College in Baltimore in 1941 and briefly taught nursery school. Raymond, a Harvard grad, was international V.P. of Max Factor, then became a successful investment adviser.
Natalie attributes her longevity to 3 acronyms:
- GAG. Genes (a lucky gift). Attitude (“I’m never a downer.”) And Gratitude.
- PEP. Participation: “I come forward. Getting involved makes me feel alive.” E for Energy: “I participate energetically not apathetically.” P: Philanthropy. “If you give, you get back.”
- Natalie’s third acronym is ICE. That one came from Raymond, who once said, “My Natalie has an Infinite Capacity for Enjoyment.”
Natalie agrees. She says, “If I’m at home, I love it. At a concert, I love it. At a restaurant, I love it.” (Her version of “in the moment.”)
Early on, Natalie’s mother Charlotte Salter advised, “Make an effort to associate with everyone, but remember your Jewish heritage. Treasure and respect it.”
Natalie served on or chaired boards or committees of Brandeis, Hadassah, Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League. She also served on cultural boards: the Santa Barbara Symphony and the Museum of Natural History. She was a commissioner of the Santa Barbara Arts Council.
The Santa Barbara Center for Successful Aging presented Natalie its first Spirit of Successful Aging Award 4 years ago. She shrugs it off. “If you live long enough, you get honored.” She and Raymond were honored by Hillel, the Jewish Welfare Federation, the ADL. “I don’t have illusions. It’s about fundraising. You get your friends to come.” For one such event, Natalie hand wrote 100 notes and packed a school auditorium with 500.
Natalie’s daughter, a retired social worker, and son, a lawyer specializing in Japanese mergers and acquisitions, live elsewhere. Natalie has a network of groupies, most 30 years younger, who show up at events and in her daily life. She calls them her “courtesy daughters.” (She also has 7 “courtesy sons.”) It’s a concept that could benefit all of us as we grow, ahem, older. Especially because, as psychologist and WSJ columnist Susan Pinker notes, the top predictor of longevity is social interactions. Pinker says we should all have “at least 3 stable relationships” with people we can count on.
Natalie’s entourage surges past 3. Her 45 courtesy daughters support her in various ways. Neeta Premchand is from Mumbai. She flew in for a day to attend Natalie’s 94th birthday celebration. Julie Yamamoto is Japanese. She lives up the street from Natalie, whose house has a steep driveway. Every morning she puts Natalie’s 2 delivered newspapers at her door. Jocelyne Bublitz takes Natalie shopping, to movies, or on walks downtown.
My sister Anne Towbes is courtesy daughter #31. She’s also a member of Natalie’s bridge group. 3 years ago, Anne learned Natalie’s courtesy daughters didn’t know each other. Anne rectified that. For Natalie’s 94th birthday, she hosted a luncheon for Natalie’s entire entourage.
Born in Boston, Natalie also lived in Chicago and L.A. For the last 44 years, she’s been in Santa Barbara. She met Raymond during WWII while he was in Naval training. After their first date, she called her mother and announced, “I met the man I’m going to marry.”
They married in February, 1943. Raymond had said, “It’s wartime. We’ll have a small wedding.” Natalie said, “I have 56 first cousins. If you want a small wedding, you asked the wrong girl.”
The newlyweds lived together for 2 months before Raymond shipped out to serve in the Atlantic operations. Natalie spent the several months he was away with his parents in Chicago. “It was the smartest young decision I made. By the time Raymond came back, I knew his family and the city. His mother called me her daughter-in-love.”
Natalie and Raymond were unalike, she says. “He was a camper. I want a bathroom, a bed and linens.” Natalie had trained in violin and piano and played in the high school orchestra. She loved attending musical performances. “Raymond went with me to every concert,” she says. “Music didn’t fill his soul, but he went for me.” Besides his being accommodating, she says, he was “successful, kind and full of integrity.”
“We communicated,” she says. “I told Raymond, if you don’t like something I’m doing, tell me. He said, ‘Stop interrupting me.’ I never got that one right.”
Week nights someone stays with Natalie “just in case they’re needed.” Weekends she’s on her own—“I have my privacy and I love it.” She walks without a cane but no longer drives. At 90, she got a speeding ticket. “Smarting from the large fine, I figured the good Lord was telling me to stop.”
Natalie has few friends of her generation. “I don’t want an organ recital. I’m not interested in hearing about anyone’s heart or stomach or spleen. I don’t want to hear the negative. Tell me what you saw or read or did.”
Natalie learned a valuable lesson from her “mother-in-love,” Minnie King Myerson, “a woman’s libber before the term was coined.” The first female CPA in Chicago, Minnie used to say, ”Life is a balance sheet. It has pluses and minuses, and everybody has both. If you end up with 1 plus on the credit side, you’re ahead of the game.”
Thanks for the accounting lesson, Natalie, and the lesson in life. Rock on.