I read obituaries, not to satisfy a gruesome interest in death, but to expand my imagination about the many roads less traveled and the consequences of taking them. I’m interested in the people who refused to let popular wisdom carve their path through life. Because my cozy mystery series is about people in their 90s, I focus on articles about them.

And so in the July 25th Washington Post, I came across the obituary for Betty Brown Park who died at age 95 from a brief illness.  At age 92, she retired from her position as Senior Attorney at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  She began her 68 years of government service as a lawyer in 1941. This was at the beginning of World War II, when women were recruited for all types of jobs.  Despite this need, before, during, and after the war, most professional women were routinely asked, “can you type?” Most people also bought into the idea that women could either have a marriage or a career. Once you married, you either quit or were let go. She married in 1942 and continued working while raising three children. During her years of  service, she received many awards including HUD’s Distinguished Service Award.  She also traveled extensively, volunteered in various associations, and was a musician.

She’s the kind of person I write about in The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase.  They’re the people who don’t look outside themselves for social approval of what to do in life but inside at what they want to do. They don’t, for example, assume they are feeble simply because they are old. People who make such assumptions and perpetuate them live life by prescription. They’re the ones who say, “I’m 85 (or 65, 55, 75), therefore I’m too old to [fill in the blank].” This may be true for them, but it’s the “therefore” that I quarrel with. That’s why I focus on people in their eighties, nineties, and one hundreds who are or were active, alert, busy, and out adventuring in the world—even climbing mountains. They don’t let the standard “wisdom” stop them.

So I salute Betty Brown Park and all the men and women who refuse to let prescriptions for living block their way on the road less traveled.

This just in: Singer and actor Tony Martin died July 27. He was 98. At age 95 he performed in a nightclub act where he introduced one selection by saying, “I first sang this song at Abraham Lincoln’s inauguration.”

Eileen Haavik McIntire 7/31/2012

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