I was on Sunday about America’s oldest teacher, Agnes ‘Granny’ Zhelesnik of New Jersey, who just turned 100 and is still working 35-hours a week teaching home economics to kids. Going strong five days a week, she hasn’t called in sick since she was 98. And the children adore her.
Which prompted me to wonder whatever became of Alice Thomas who graduated from law school at age 79. That was four years ago. And it was news then because Thomas was at the time, the oldest person ever to graduate from McGeorge Law School in Sacramento. It was another of those seasoned citizen atta-girl/atta-boy moments I like so much.
For instance, there’s Charles Elliott who last year turned 100-years old and marked that milestone by skiing at the Colorado ski resort he helped found. He made four runs before stopping to sip champagne and eat cake with members of the Gray Wolf Ski Club.
And when it comes to aging fearlessly with joy, who can forget Ilona Royce Smithkin or Oliver Sacks or ‘over-the-rainbow’ Dorothy Ellis or ski slope silver surfer 91-year old Klaus Obermeyer or centenarian Octavio Orduño — who I hope is still riding his bike well past 100.
Although it’s increasingly more commonplace, most of us won’t be hitting the century mark — much less going beyond it like the now late Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer who famously called turning 103 a ‘crap’ birthday. Just the same, these are people who grabbed life by the throat. And who regardless of advancing years, chose to live deep and to continue sucking the marrow out of life.
Biting not “nibbling” at injustice.
As for Alice Thomas, on graduating law school she remarked how she aspired to ‘nibble’ at injustice. Since I couldn’t locate her on the state bar’s membership directory, I’m not sure if she ever sat for the bar exam in Nevada. But all the same, that’s not stopped her from trying to make good on her aspirations and to do more than just nibble at injustice.
The now 82-year old Thomas has been busy. She founded and heads a non-profit organization called Civil Rights for Seniors to provide legal services to seniors and other Nevada residents and to empower them through advocacy. “Seniors must be our priority as they do not have time to regain their security and take part in the General Welfare, a guarantee under our Bill of Rights,” she told Senior Spectrum Newspaper.
Last October, her organization made news despite losing a state supreme court case seeking expanded public access to Nevada’s Foreclosure Mediation Program records. The records are maintained by the Administrative Office of Courts (“AOC”), which is an arm of the Nevada Supreme Court. Thomas and her organization wanted access to those records to “verify one way or another whether the program is or is not a success.”
It’s a good question even though overall I think Nevada’s Foreclosure Mediation Program has done more good than bad. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean the program hasn’t been a mixed bag.
But how successful? That hasn’t been entirely clear. In 2011, the Reno Gazette-Journal concluded “that independently assessing its effectiveness was difficult because of incomplete data and a far-reaching confidentiality policy that encompasses nearly all of its records.”
Civil Rights for Seniors tried testing the limits of that policy and ran into the same problems the newspaper did with respect to the “far-reaching confidentiality” of those records. The organization also made much of the fact the since the Nevada Supreme Court administers the foreclosure mediation program and shares in the fees — it had a conflict of interest. “The Court’s decision is outrageous!” said Thomas. “I am not surprised, but since when can judges sit in judgment of themselves and decide their own cases?” The case is Civil Rights for Seniors v. AOC, 129 Nev. Adv. Op. 80 (Oct 31, 2013).
NRS: Chapter 239 generally provides the public with access to inspect and copy public books and records held by governmental entities to the extent permitted by law. Civil Rights for Seniors’ records access efforts were turned back when the high court ruled the foreclosure mediation records held by AOC, a judicial entity, “are confidential as a matter of law.”
Despite this setback, I doubt it’s dissuaded Thomas and her legal team from persisting in efforts as she told “Senior Spectrum” to hold “those accountable who need to be held accountable” or from working to “create the conditions seniors need to flourish.”
Secret of life.
Like all the above-mentioned octogenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians, Thomas found her “one thing.” As Curly told Mitch in City Slickers, it’s what each of us has to find to get to our own “secret of life.”
In Curly’s words, it’s the “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.”
Photo Credits: “Not in Kansas Anymore,” by garlandcannon, at Flickr via Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution;”Sign of the Times – Foreclosure,” by respres at Wikimedia Commons via Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.