Jan 01, 2020 04:25PM
By Marian Leary
A few years back, I asked my doctor what his advice would be for growing old and staying healthy. He smiled, and, quoting an old bromide said, “Choose your parents wisely.” Which may have been amusing, but wasn’t all that helpful.
Well, now I’m 93, and I’m in good health. I don’t deny the occasional aches and pains and forgetting people’s names, but I can’t complain. Life is good.
I credit a few things for my happy longevity, one of which would be the 14 golden retrievers I’ve had in the 59 years since I first married. These dogs, with their wagging tails and sweet, trusting faces, are not to be denied a daily walk. Over the years, it didn’t matter if the weather was crummy or I just wasn’t in the mood, they usually won. I’ve also done yoga twice a week for five years, so let’s say exercise is important.
My years of study with voice coaches have also been important to me. In 1950, when I left my job as an airline attendant with Braniff International Airways to marry a wonderful young Omaha lawyer, Penn Leary, I also left my studies at the Kansas City Conservatory of Music. My voice coach there advised me to go to Omaha and start an opera company–probably sensing that a great singing career was not in my future.
I didn’t manage that, but I did take with me many lessons from voice training, among which was the importance of good posture. I’ve since learned that good posture can be a deterrent to a lot of problems as one gets older.
While there was not (yet) an opera company in Omaha, there was a well-established symphony orchestra when I got here. In 1952, I was on the board of directors of the Omaha Symphony, where I stayed for 20 years, serving as president for two. I was also part of efforts to start The Omaha Symphony Guild and the Symphony Debutante Ball.
My singing is now reserved for the church choir, and until my 70th birthday I sang every Sunday at Trinity Cathedral, my beloved church. I still sing–but only in the shower and my church pew at Trinity.
I also spent five years on the Joslyn Art Museum’s Board of Trustees, during times of real transition for the institution, and was a tour guide for a number of years before that, which was an education in itself, and a lasting enrichment to my life.
But the real joy in my life has been my family. Sadly, Penn died in 2005. He was an immensely talented lawyer, writer, inventor, and loving husband and father. My son Brian, his wife Donna, and their son Ian live in Denver. My daughter Shawn, her husband Michael Considine, and their children, Annie, Nora, and Christopher live in Lenox, Massachusetts, which I visit every summer for the Tanglewood Music Festival. Brian’s twin sister, Erin, lives in Scottsdale, Arizona. A great sadness in our lives was the death of her husband Gary Wence two years ago. Their son Charlie lives in Chicago. One may wonder if there is anyone left in Omaha? The answer is yes—Erin’s daughter Emily and her husband, Adam Langdon. And I am very grateful for the fun and love they have shared with me.
A testament to the old adage, “It ain’t over till it’s over,” was my relationship with Dick Holland in the last five years of his life. How special such friendships can be, when the cast of characters are in their 80s and 90s, when most anything in your life has been dealt with, good or bad, and magically you’re left with the sweet ripe fruits of your long life.
I like to think that my health has been, in some mysterious way, the result of the happiness my family, friends, and dogs have given me.
This article was printed in the 60Plus section of the January/February 2020 issue of Omaha Magazine.