Between You and Me: Martha Stewart, 81, loves being oldest model for...

Between You and Me: Martha Stewart, 81, loves being oldest model for swimsuit issue

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

“When are you going to retire?” is a question that makes me smile. Of course, it is closely related to another word: age. Put the two words together, and I start to become defiant, which is probably why Martha Stewart decided to pose in a swimsuit for the cover of Sports Illustrated’s annual issue.

Now I know about Martha Stewart, who was not called by that name when she was a year behind me at Barnard College. That means she is only one year younger than I, and she, too, was feeling defiant. She wanted to show the world that she was not invisible just because she is older. And indeed, she is showing the whole world because she is an international personality, a businesswoman, writer and television personality, who has written books, publishes a magazine, hosted two syndicated television programs and personifies contemporary graceful living with her Martha Stewart Living ventures.

My guess is that many women in the latter years of their lives are cheering Martha Stewart’s swimsuit photos and her defiance.

Ageism is definitely an unwelcome bigoted “ism” in this century, when people are often living into their 80s, 90s and beyond. One of my personal heroes is Warren Buffett, American business investor and philanthropist. Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, known as the “Oracle of Omaha” and worth over 100 billion dollars, making him the fifth richest person in the world, he will be celebrating his 93rd birthday in August. Even more impressive is his business partner, Charlie Munger, who is 99. Together they still run the fabulously successful company.

Another such story is about Milton Esterow, 94, profiled in The New York Times last Sunday. A publisher at the age of 10 in Brooklyn where he grew up, he made 18 copies of his first publication, each consisting of one handwritten page, and sold them to friends for 2 cents apiece. You can see why he has already stolen my heart. Today he still writes articles for The New York Times about culture and art. In between, he has traveled around the world, met famous artists, owned the country’s oldest art magazine, ARTimes, and won many distinguished prizes. His culture stories had an edge. In 1964 he wrote a front page story for The NYT on treasures stolen by the Nazis during WWII, one of rare culture stories to run on page one. 

His investigative approach made his stories and magazine successes. In the early 1980s, as a result of a rumor he had heard, he and his wife flew to Vienna and visited a monastery that might house thousands of works looted by Nazi soldiers. He met with head of the Federal Monuments Office in Austria and sensed that the man was defensive. He assigned a reporter to dig around and by 1984, the article appeared attesting to the hidden collection. At that point, “All hell broke loose,“ according to Esterow.

“In 1985, the Austrian government announced a plan to return stolen works to their owners or heirs,” according to The NYT. “In 2016, the general consul of Austria presented Mr. Esterow with a Cross of Honor for Science and Art, saying that his work helped to make Austria ‘a better country.’”

Esterow continues to follow the trail of Nazi looting. He does not plan to retire. I particularly like what he had to say about that.

“Work is more fun than fun.”

For all these people and so many more octogenarians and older — Martha Stewart, Warren Buffett, Milton Esterow — retirement is a strange idea. Old age is another.

My sentiments, too.