Secret to longevity: just live your life

Artist Bobbie Rose still working and lively at 101

By Nancy Mendelson

I have just spent a few hours with Bobbie Rose, and I feel like I’ve discovered the fountain of youth—but it has absolutely nothing to do with age.

Bobbie is 101 and a recent “supermodel” for Bobbie Brown’s eyewear brand, but while there may be a “secret to her longevity,” it would be a colossal waste of time to ply her with questions about diet, exercise, skin care and brand of shampoo (she has an amazing head of hair). Bobbie is so much more.

Just Google “Bobbie Rose.” In TV news stories and online articles, you’ll find out that she’s self-sufficient: She lives on her own, drives, runs her errands, is an avid golfer and is always finding new ways to challenge herself. She makes paintings and sculpture (she started welding at 90); she’s also made shadow boxes, a puppet theater, a carousel, a totem pole, a tree house…

That’s why I’m visiting Bobbie at her home in the Philadelphia suburb of Jenkintown: I want to find out what drives her.

Bobbie greets me wearing a crisp white shirt, belted jeans, white sneakers, a little lipstick and a warm, welcoming smile—and in short order, it becomes crystal clear that she wants to do things her way. Rather than sit down and answer questions, Bobbie is more interested in introducing me to the treasures that fill her home—some treasures she’s collected, most she’s created herself. She wants to talk while we walk and let me get to know her through the incredible body of artwork she’s produced. So I grab my recorder, and off we go.
You’ve often talked about how your life really opened up at 90. What changed for you?

I’ll tell you what, numbers don’t mean anything to me, they don’t define who I am – never did. Although when I turned 90, I called my daughter and said, “90, that’s a big number. I better get moving,” and that was that.

Good things started happening for me. It was like someone was finally paying attention to me, acknowledging me. I won a golf tournament at 90—a Philadelphia championship for Super Seniors 65 and over—and I beat all the younger players. That was a really big deal for me. I was inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in my 90s. I started welding at 90. Come take a look at at this butterfly, it’s one of my welding pieces.

Do you still weld?

No, not anymore. I’m afraid I’ll burn the house down. I’ve been working with Sculpey for a while now. It’s a clay I can do in the house and I don’t need a kiln. You bake it in the oven—my pieces are only as limited as the size of my oven—then I paint and glaze them.

I do my sawing and did my welding down in the basement. Everything else I do here, at the kitchen table. Come, I’ll show you the basement.
You go up and down these stairs every day?

I’m up and down all the time. My car is down here, and I often work down here. I was a gym teacher before I got married and was always very athletic, so I’m happy for the stairs—it’s great exercise.
Your body of work is so incredible that your daughter calls you “Grandma Roses.” And you work in such a wide variety of mediums: wood, metals, clay, needlepoint—

I know, I’m all over the place. I love it all. I really do love it all. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve been a widow for a long time. My husband passed away in 1974 when I was 58, so I’ve been actively at it for over 40 years. I take classes at the Cheltenham Art Center once a week.
Do you drive there?

Of course! The most important thing is to get out of the house. On days I have nothing much going on, I go to the grocery store, which I hate to do, but it’s a direction. You have to get out and do something.

When my daughter was turning 70, she was getting a little down about it, and I said, ‘Do you think I want to get out of bed every day? Do you think I want to get myself going? Some days I just want to stay in bed, but I get up, I go into the kitchen, I have my breakfast, I read the paper, do the crossword puzzle, and that’s how I begin my day every day.’
The difference between you and a lot of people of any age is that when you get inspired you actually do something about it.

I do. I really get excited when I get inspired and I love to find things for myself to do. Like my little people.

When I don’t know what to do, I make these little people. They’re all in my head and they all have names. I can sit at the kitchen table and make them. I love whimsey. I still believe in Santa Claus.
You know, Bobbie, I think your secret is that you have no secret.

Thank you for saying that. People are always asking me how did I get this far. How do I know how I got this far! I just live my life. How fortunate I am that I have my daughter nearby. My son and daughter-in-law are in the area too. We don’t have a very big family, but we have a very close family, and I am grateful for that.
Since turning 90 was such a pivotal point in your life, what happened when you reached 100?

I told my daughter, Bonnie, that at 100 I was starting over. So right now, I’m 1… and on January 22, I’ll be 2.
Is there anything you wish you had done that you haven’t done yet?

Yes. I wish I had learned glass blowing.