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Dare to Be 100: Ruth Anne Is Gone

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By wife of 62 years died last night. The proximate cause of her death was a head injury suffered when she struck her occiput on the edge of a bedside table.

The ultimate cause of her death was Alzheimer's disease that had ravaged her for 3+ years.

So that comes close to fulfilling my criteria for a good death, which is "no pain, no tubes, and no loneliness." She had no pain, no tubes, and she died in her bedroom of the home that we love so much.

But her death was even better than just "a good death," because she is at last relieved of the torment of A.D. that terrorized all of us in recent times. Today is a better day than yesterday because this burden is removed.

I had feared that she would suffer another aspiration event, like past Saturday when we were having a gentle little breakfast of orange juice, coffee, and croissants. She had lost her ability to swallow. Before we knew it her airway was obstructed. Of great moment was the visit of my closest medical school classmate Dr. Horace Mac Vaugh, who was visiting on his way to the Bohemian club. Horace was a distinguished cardiac surgeon. I immediately summoned him, after six or seven ineffective chest thrusts we laid her on the floor and Horace began aggressively to dislodge the obstruction with his experienced fingers. Her cyanosis quickly cleared. But it was easy to observe that without his fortuitous presence she would have died of suffocation, which was grisly rather than yesterday's gentle exodus.

So death intrudes on our long relationship. We met during college days, summer 1949, I after my second year at Wiiliams, and she after her first year at Mt. Holyoke. We met at Harvard Summer School, romanced, and were affiliated for the next 65 years. Such an experience is for few to experience. We had four wonderful kids two and two, and nine burgeoning grandkids. We had amazing friends. We traveled extensively. She was queen of several college carnivals. In our Philadelphia years before 1970 she was a docent at Independence Hall for the Junior League and told visitors where Ben sat, and Tom stood, and George presided before the Park Service took it over. She was a finalist of her college golf tournament.

But it was running that became the bastion of her adult life. I had begun running as a grief reaction to dad's death several years before. She did not really accept my running, and figured that at my age it was not decent to be running around the neighborhood in my underpants. She felt it was inappropriate for a distinguished gray-haired physician to be so much on display.

But she became infected with the running bug, and my little, sweet, retiring wife became committed. "You can't do that!" "WATCH!"

Within a couple years she ran a marathon and quickly became world class. She ran a 3 hour 47 minute marathon when she was 61. She won first place for her age group in the Boston Marathon when she was 70, and 75, but was beaten by another 80-year-old in 2010. We both were still running in the infamous 2013 marathon when the bombs hit another five miles ahead.

Her running really got serious. Our doctor son Walter Michael Bortz IV had run the famous Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run. In a flash, it seems, Ruth Anne and we were gathered at the starting line, under the chairlift at Squaw Valley ready to run to Auburn, 100 miles over the mountains. " You can't do that." "Watch." In 1986 at the age of 56 she completed the 100 miles in 24 hours and 20 minutes -- truly unreal for my tiny Boston-born bride.

Her feats were widely celebrated in the major women's magazines and every local news outlet -- Ruth Anne Bortz, famous long distance runner. MY WIFE.

She made her mark, and in so doing gave vivid evidence of the human potential, my mantra. Little did I ever believe that my runty, 100-pound, 5 foot 2 wife would become exhibit one in this human story.

This is now an indelible testimonial, and memory, not only for me, her husband, her family, and for the whole world.

Well done, well run, Ruth Anne.