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So how does it feel to be 100 years old? I asked my good friend Mary Epstein. “Well,” she replied, “the truth is that my mind tells me I’m 50, but my body says I’m 150.’’
Where were you were earlier, I asked, having called her, but was only able to reach her voice mail. “I was in my garden; my plants were desperate for water,’’ she responded. But it’s 90 degrees outside; not healthy for you. ’’I know, I know,” said the Boynton Beach resident, “but I need to take care of my plants.’’
And being concerned about others, even her thirsty plants, is the essence of this remarkable centenarian.
Ask any of the 30 guests who recently celebrated Mary’s big 100 about what they think of this spunky, petite senior, and the answer is always the same: amazing, inspirational, one-of-a-kind and a damn good bridge player. (She learned the game when she was 92!)
Some of the speeches given by her friends at the luncheon in her honor at the Westchester Country Club were mere echoes of what was said by anyone who has ever met her.
Although Mary insists that she has slowed down a bit, most of her friends who are decades younger are in awe of her energy. For example, she still plays bridge three times a week and never misses her daily exercise routine: sit-ups, stretches and walks around the house.
Before the pandemic, however, Mary was a daily fixture in the Aberdeen Club fitness center. A year ago, she danced in an amateur show at her clubhouse (the applause brought the house down.) A former avid tennis player, Mary was sad to hang up her racket at age 92.
No stranger to bouts of life-threatening illnesses over the years, Mary is grateful for her recoveries but feels sad to remember all her wonderful friends who are now gone.
Mary, who was married at 17, is widowed. She has two sons, grandkids, great-grandkids, and even a few great-great-great grandkids (too many to name). She proudly shows their pictures on her smartphone.
Mary holds a master’s degree in city planning, but at 64, she went back to school to earn a law degree. She never took the bar exam, she explained, because she had no desire to be an attorney. “I just loved learning,” she said.
Until a few years ago, Mary worked as a substitute teacher for children with special needs, and the money she earned from that job she gave to charity.
From 1984 to 2017, Mary served as a crisis counselor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and traveled worldwide to bring relief to people hit by disaster. She began her work as a volunteer and then became a staff member. (She also held many other posts for the agency.)
“You can’t believe what people go through when a catastrophe strikes,’’ she said as tears up as she tells of the time she worked to help people devastated by the World Trade Center explosions in New York City. “As awful as it was, I was glad to be helpful.’’
A zest for traveling the world, Mary went to South Africa two years ago (against her doctor’s wishes) and hopes one day to visit Australia.
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Besides her dedication to Hadassah, she supports such other organizations as PAP, ORT, and gives generously to the City of Hope, St. Jude’s Hospital and Hadassah Hospital in Israel. “There are so many people in the world who are in need,’’ she said.
Her secret to a good life, she adds, is to abide by the Ten Commandments: “We’d have a better world if more people felt the same.”
As a young girl, she quoted the Golden Rule (Do unto others…) in her 1935 eighth-grade graduation yearbook.
Even today, she cares for others with the tenets of Buddhism: “Be kind, be honest and love nature.’’
Happy birthday, Mary Epstein, you are indeed a role model for how to live a long and wonderful life.
Bea Lewis is a journalist, author and public speaker who lives in Boynton Beach.