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At 105, Mary Katz is still going strong

At 105, Mary Katz still finds plenty to smile about. (Janice Arnold photo)

Mary Katz giggles when she thinks about her age. But she doesn’t give much thought to being 105 because she’s too interested in today rather than what has passed.

Katz (née Dubrofsky), who is nearly always smiling, was born on Feb. 27, 1915 in Montreal. “I laugh at my age,” she says.

Aging well is a matter of attitude, according to Katz.

“The mind rules the body,” she believes, tapping the table for emphasis. “And I mean it. My body is not going to be my boss, I am.”

Katz has lived in Westmount One since she was 92, reluctantly moving into the seniors’ residence at her children’s urging. That’s the year she retired from being a travel agent, a career she took up out of financial necessity when she was widowed at 48 with two of her three kids still at home.

The shock of losing her husband, Seymour, took years to overcome. “Being a travel consultant meant having to be in a very jolly mood. I was fictitiously happy at the office, but crying back home,” she said.

“Then, one day I said, ‘Mary, pull up your bootstraps and get going.’”

It was a job that took her around the world, including to China and Japan, but Katz liked to say she got to her downtown office by “BMW (bus, metro, walking).”

Katz learned the power of keeping busy and cultivating friends, finding something to do every day, whether volunteering with ORT (a Jewish charity which provides vocational training) and B’nai Brith or going to all sorts of cultural events.

“I was busy every single day,” she says. “I learned to accept one day at a time, and I still do. Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a present.”

Her days now begin with meticulously making her bed, getting dressed and putting on makeup and going downstairs for a hearty breakfast. Unlike many at the residence, she has no personal attendant.

Katz has always been health conscious, and keeps a thick book on her bedside table about natural remedies.

Katz is a believer in exercise, especially brisk walking. “I would always say, ‘Come on, Mary, take longer steps,” she said.

Today, she uses a walker indoors, but eschews the device when outside, and she gets out as much as possible. Her daughter, Carrie Katz, notes that on an outing two days before her birthday, her mother climbed 17 stairs.

What Mary Katz really likes about Westmount One is the full schedule of activities. Her favourite is exercise, especially yoga and tai chi classes.

“There isn’t a day when something isn’t programmed, which is marvelous,” she says.

And to keep the mind in control, she knows she has to use it, too.

She has some hearing loss, but her vision is sharp, and Katz marvels at her surroundings: the paintings on the wall, the flickering fireplace and the subdued decor.

Her birthday was a snowy, blustery day. “People called to tell me we shouldn’t take her out (to her favourite restaurant, the Snowdon Deli),” Carrie Katz said. “But, she said, ‘Of course, we’ll go. Just pick me up in the garage and I’ll be fine.’”

Katz still makes friends easily, and the reality is most new ones are much younger. “It shocks them that I can converse with them,” she says.

And that includes her six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren who “revere” her, Carrie Katz said.

To love people, as she does, the elder Katz adds, you must learn to love yourself.

“Negativity is a dangerous thing. There’s no use worrying. I’m always smiling, it’s good exercise for the face.”

Asked if she believes in God, Katz replied without hesitation, “definitely.”

She doesn’t follow the news too closely these days, but “The CJN is her Bible,” her daughter says. She does follow current events enough to have formed a lukewarm opinion of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “But I loved his father, he was a fighter. Wherever he spoke, I was there.”

Only a few years ago, Katz worked on the election campaign of local Liberal candidate and former astronaut Marc Garneau, now federal transport minister.

Her favourite charitable cause for many years has been Israel’s Technion, and she always requests any gifts to her be donations to that university.

Carrie Katz, her oldest at almost 80, remembers her mom could be “very bossy” and still likes to give her, her sister Eileen and brother Kenny a piece of her mind.

Lise Katz, Kenny’s wife, remembers when Kenny phoned his mother to tell her he had conquered a bad habit after 50 years. “He announces proudly, ‘Ma, I quit smoking.’ Not missing a beat, Mary says, ‘I think you should cut down on eating red meat.’ Mary is on a mission to make everyone she cares about to be better,” Lise Katz said.

“She gets better with age, she’s constantly evolving,” says Carrie Katz of her mom.

“She never asked us for our advice. She took charge of her life, and relied on no one but herself.”