Service of Aging Gracefully

March 12th, 2018

Categories: Age, Awards, Beat the Odds, Memory, Physical Therapy

Rita Moreno receiving Oscar in 1962. Photo:

My Aunt Dickie had a needlepoint pillow which read: “Old age is not for sissies.” How right was her pillow, though you’d never know it on the surface of things in some cases.

At the Oscars Eva Marie Saint took my breath away as did Rita Moreno and Jane Fonda. They are 93, 86 and 80 years old respectively but you could have fooled me. Ask Google about Fonda and among her list of accomplishments is “fitness guru.” I’ll say! Moreno wore a 56 year old dress—the one she had on when she received the Oscar for her role in “West Side Story” and she looked magnificent. As for Ms. Saint, she was elegant and sounded fabulous and closer to sixty than 100.

Doris Kearns Goodwin. Photo:

Hearing writer-historians such as David McCollough, 84, and Doris Kearns Goodwin, 75, rattle off dates and events dotted with fascinating facts and anecdotes without peering at a note is a thrill. Few can remember half as much and in such vivid detail at any age.

Here’s another example closer to home. To counter the ravages of Parkinson’s my husband, with a lifelong almost terminal allergy to any and all things exercise, has completed a grueling four weeks of practically daily physical therapy with stretches and sit/standing homework on top of it. Many days he can hardly get out of bed yet no matter how weak and queasy he feels off he goes to Sutton Place Physical Therapy returning exhausted and often cheerful. He’s cancelled only once—on one of the snowstorm days. He says that his head has felt clearer than it has in years making it easier for him to do tax prep, write—already gifted he works on improving—and preparing dinners restaurant chefs would admire.

Some Medicare-eligible citizens are blessed with genes that help keep them feeling and appearing youthful and are relatively disease-free; others have great facelift and fitness support teams and still others have the belly to fight. Will increasing numbers of high profile older folks who hit life out of the park positively impact prejudice against workers 45+ especially in some industries as film–for women in particular–advertising and PR to name a few? Do you know of any remarkable seniors you’d like to call out?


Homer Byington


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10 Responses to “Service of Aging Gracefully”

  1. EAM Said:

    Kudos to Homer for opening his mind and body to excercise. I’d also have to give credit to my 81-year old mother. She’s had 2 hip replacements and a leg surgery after taking a spill down the steps in her home. She’s had no plastic surgery and has grown old pretty gracefully. She travels, still drives and gets around well. And, she shares her age freely.

  2. H.M. Byington Said:

    It’s hard to complain, when someone writes such flattering things about you as you have about me here, but I’m afraid you’ve overdone it by quite a bit! There are tens of thousands, if not millions, of old people doing PT just like me, and what’s more, most of them do a far better job than I do and complain far less, but thanks for the flowers and, more importantly, your continuing support.

    As to examples of geriatric “home run hitters,” off the top of my head, I’d like to add two examples: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, 84, and Jacques Barzun who was 93 when he published his magnificent “From Dawn to Decadence” in 2000. While I may not always agree with her, nobody asks better questions of pleading advocates appearing before the Supreme Court. (You can listen to her on C Span.) As to Barzun, I believe that his remarkable survey of the rise and fall of Western Civilization will come to be viewed in the future with that same reverence with which we now hold Gibbon’s recounting of what happened to the Roman Empire 1,500 years ago. Regrettably, though, most of us do lose our ability in old age to contribute in any meaningful way to our shared, common wellbeing.

    Of course, the unasked and unanswered question in all this is why, in an increasingly overcrowded world with declining resources, we are making such an effort, at evermore monumental expense, to keep useless old people alive, often in growing misery, for longer and longer? What about the old people? Don’t they have a say? Why are they still being brain washed out of their natural ability to determine when they have had enough of the miseries of life? Visit your typical local old age home or rehabilitation center and look at the blank, empty faces of the wheel chaired inmates, lined up in rows before idiot box screens, supposedly looking at or listening to the infantile drivel being spewed out at them. It is horrible and unnecessarily cruel!

    The time has come to rethink our attitudes, not just about life and medicine, but about death itself.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I second your mother! She’s game for adventure, is fun and curious, smart and as with it as anyone I know, attending exhibitions and shows, concerts and lectures, loves to shop, wears great clothes accented with fun jewelry. Here’s to Mrs. M!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Ruth B G is a great choice. You’ve often spoken of Jacques Barzun and you’ve bought his book as a gift for many.

    Friends and family members have been given terrible diagnostic news and it’s hard to know how best to deal. One put himself through a difficult operation with subsequent course of powerful chemo and he still lives after a year with a disease that kills most in a matter of months. He was able to attend his son’s wedding the other week which was important to his son, his wife and himself.

    The situation you describe is not the same. I’ve been to old age communities where the apartments are small but big enough to keep a few important pieces of furniture and art, they allow pets and provide company for those who want it, offer programs and films as well. It depends on where you live and what facilities are nearby, what you can afford, and how frail you are.

    We’ve made many improvements in 242 years that help people live comfortably with the physical cards they are dealt but the fact that families are scattered around the globe and increasingly so makes it hard for many to care for family members they might have before. In addition, with women working outside the home even if they live next door to siblings and parents they can’t easily keep a job while caring for ailing relatives. You point to a challenge largely ignored.

  5. JBS Said:

    Jane Fonda looks terrific at 80. She’s had a facelift (admits it) and exercises, but when I saw her present at the Academy Awards, I was impressed. Helen Mirren presented with her and she, too, looks great at 72, but since I’m 77, I don’t consider 72 old!

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I heard Helen Mirren accept a lifetime achievement award at a film event sponsored by AARP and you are right–she’s magnificent, smart, and looks superb.

    Is 70 the new 55?

  7. Martin Johnson Said:

    Martin wrote on Facebook: Yes, Cynthia Kamen, to be 101 this March, retired New York City school principal, on Board of Education of Boca Raton, FL plus many other major accomplishments. She was my mother’s good friend and I have known Cynthia since 1955. A remarkable woman and educator.

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Good for the Board of Ed of Boca Raton to tap into Ms. Kamen’s smarts and experience and how fortunate you are to have one of your mother’s friends to speak with! She must have amazing stories to share and her opinions about education today–if she heard Betsy DeVos on “60 Minutes” last night for example–might give us hope.

  9. Lucrezia Said:

    These actresses may age better than most, but doubtless have costly surgeons, Botox and other anti-aging ammunition on tap.

    A kind Mother Nature is a big help– but looks eventually fade regardless of ability to pay for a youthful appearance. If we’re still around, let’s see these ladies ten years from now. The cracks will eventually win out unless technology comes up with advanced treatments.

    Then there’s Betty White (of the Golden Girls) who at 90+ does not go to herculean lengths to mask her age. She’s highly respected and is having a grand old time, wrinkles notwithstanding!

  10. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I, too, love Betty White! Who knows what 10 years will bring but Eva Marie Saint at 93 was super stunning.

    I’m a chicken: Not fond of needles and what about terrible potential side effects of poison like Botox and I don’t have the funds to pay what may be $600+ per session for something that lasts only a few months anyway. As for face lift….no way. I knew one woman whose face was paralyzed by one. And pain does not begin to describe what one feels especially if infection happens, which often it does.

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