By Robert Cherry
Mazie Golin Ford, who was born in South Philadelphia on June 28, 1906 — when Teddy Roosevelt was president — died May 6 at the age 112.
She went to sleep in her Florida condominium with a smile on her face, her daughter recalled, and never woke up. Weeks shy of her 113th birthday, Ford, as verified by the Gerontology Research Group, was one of the oldest people in the United States before her death.
What was the secret to her long life?
“There wasn’t any secret,” according to her 91-year-old daughter, Johann Levinson, who grew up in West Philadelphia but, like her mother, moved to Florida decades ago. “She was very much engaged in life. She was a social person. She had many friends. She liked to be with people.”
Equally important to her health and longevity, Ford didn’t dwell on setbacks or remain angry for long, recalled her granddaughter’s husband. Indeed, “The wine of life flowed through her veins.”
Ford and her seven siblings (one of whom was my father, Joe) grew up in the Meadows, the then-semirural area in southwest Philadelphia near what is now the Philadelphia International Airport.
My aunt played golf and tennis as a young woman and, into her early 100s, bridge and mahjong. She began driving in her early 20s — few women drove cars in the 1920s — and didn’t stop until she was 102. Why did she stop? She didn’t like how old people drove.
In 2011, I interviewed my aunt and other relatives for a book about our family. At 104, she spoke into my tape recorder for 90 minutes, recalling with precision, details and humor her and her family’s life in Philadelphia in the early decades of the 20th century.
Afterward, per her request, we went to a nearby Denny’s, where she loved to eat their breakfast specials for seniors, one of many memorable meals I shared with her. All of her nieces, nephews, great- and great-great-grandchildren — one of whom flew in from London for her graveside funeral in Springfield — have wonderful memories of lunches and dinners with her.
When she was almost 14, Ford recalled during our interview, she and four girlfriends would meet on a corner before their 2-mile walk to school, rain or cold. A young businessman named Harry Golin owned a retail meat store across the street from the corner where the girls met.
“Harry would call us in to keep warm. He used to take a hot dog, break it in half and give each one of the girls a half. Me, he gave a whole one,” she said, beaming with pride.
Golin knew a good thing when he saw it and a couple of years later married her when she was 16. He eventually owned five retail meat stores in Philadelphia from the 1920s to 1940s and then the Clover Beef Co., a wholesale distributor of kosher and non-kosher meats throughout the Philadelphia area.
During the 1960s, my aunt and uncle were snowbirds in Florida, eventually moving to Hallendale Beach in the 1970s. They were married for 54 years until his death in 1978. She had another successful marriage of 19 years to Newtown Ford. Both her husbands and a son, Charles, a lawyer in Lancaster, predeceased her.
Ford’s favorite color was pink and she was rarely seen without her pink lipstick and her blonde wig. Pink and white were the colors of her lovely Florida condo.
I last saw my aunt in February. As her aide wheeled Aunt Mazie through the lobby, the condo’s doorman, who saw them approaching, affectionately said,, “Here comes Queen Mazie.”
Always wanting to do for others, when she turned 100, Ford began to knit caps for newborn babies. She donated the caps to Memorial Regional Hospital and Joe DiMaggio’s Children’s Hospital, both in Hollywood, Florida. Among hospital nurses and administrators, even local politicians who honored her numerous times, my aunt’s joie de vivre and charitable work were legendary.
Ford’s daughter estimates that over the years her mother knitted more than 5,000 multicolor pastel caps.
“Imagine all the lives she touched with her handiwork,” she said. “She’d often comment that every time she finished a hat, she’d look at it and smile. It really delighted her to be able to do this. She went through tough times like we all do. But her personality kept her going. With her friends and family, she was able to get on with life.”
And what a life it was for the person that family, friends and admirers called Amazing Mazie.
Robert Cherry of Philadelphia is the author of Wilt: Larger Than Life, among other books.