Harriet Hausman is now the eldest newspaper columnist in the country, possibly in the world. I don’t know this for sure, but at the age of 98, there can’t be many competitors for the title.
At her 98th birthday brunch at Maya del Sol on April 9, I made the official announcement. Harriet was born on April 9, 1924. Think about that. Think how much the world has changed and everything she’s seen. Newspaper columnists are, above all else, purveyors of perspective, and no one has as much perspective as a 98-year-old, except maybe a 99-year-old, but we’ve already established (well, sort of) that there are (likely) no 99-year-old newspaper columnists in the U.S., possibly the world.
Harriet has earned it. Her substantive, eminently reasonable and humane opinion pieces have run frequently in the Viewpoints section for years — almost weekly during the Trump administration, which really stirred her creative juices (and aroused her moral indignation). In fact, she wrote so often (longhand), I finally asked her daughter Barbara if she would type the submissions and send them electronically. Now she is our most faithful correspondent.
During the brunch, a microphone was provided for those who felt inspired to talk about Harriet’s influence in their lives. Harriet was the first to grab it. She introduced almost everyone in attendance, never blanking on a name. It was impressive to watch a nonagenarian work the room … with her walker.
A recent letter in Viewpoints by Pat Healey began, “When I grow up, I want to be like Harriet Hausman …”). When my turn came to speak, I continued that theme.
“When I’m 98,” I said, “I want to be as informed as Harriet Hausman.
“I want to be as prolific a writer as Harriet.
“I want to be as good a writer as Harriet.
“I want to be as clear-headed as Harriet.
“I want to be as liberal as Harriet.
“I want to be able to express my outrage about those who hurt America and harm Americans, but, like Harriet, I want to do it with as much grace and class and humanity.
“I want to be as devoid of cynicism as Harriet.
“I want to be as fierce a defender of democracy and civil liberties as Harriet.
“I want to be as generous in spirit as Harriet.
“I want to be as full of life and love and, yes, fire as Harriet.
“Harriet actually makes me want to live to be 98, which is 28 years from now.
“I want Harriet to be 126 years young when I’m 98.
“And I wouldn’t bet against her.
“Happy birthday to my favorite unofficial Wednesday Journal columnist.
“For your birthday present, I’m putting your name in the staff box starting this week.
“With love and admiration, your editor.”
I’m not sure we’ve ever had a River Forest columnist, so it’s about time. Granted, she doesn’t write about River Forest all that often, but she is a staunch defender of democracy, which is important because, as you may have noticed, it is deeply endangered. Harriet has certainly noticed, but then she’s been a defender of democracy and civil liberties for decades through her membership in the ACLU, which stands for the American Civil Liberties Union, for those unfamiliar with the concept and/or those who only support civil liberties for people who look like them and believe what they believe.
In which case I would only say, “Listen to your elder, read Harriet’s column.” We can all learn something from it. You’ll find her name in the staff box on the facing page (if you’re reading in print). Her column you’ll find on page 27.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a column about the difference between patriotism and citizenship. For Harriet, there has never been any difference. She is the most patriotic citizen I know. In fact, she ought to be the grand marshal of the River Forest Memorial Day Parade whenever that tradition resumes. After all, she’s lived in the village since 1954 and wrote the definitive book on the town, Reflections – A History of River Forest.
In the Forward to that book, published in 1975 during the lead-up to our country’s bi-centennial, she wrote, “It is my hope that newcomers to River Forest, and children growing up here, can learn from this story how our village was created. Perhaps the new generation will renew the democratic spirit that prevailed, and the vigor and vigilance in maintaining a sense of community and a concern and respect for all citizens that distinguished River Forest’s beginnings.”
If this year’s grand marshal has already been chosen, no matter. Harriet fully intends to be around two years from now for her centennial. Maybe she can be grand marshal then.
More to the point, it will mark her second anniversary as the eldest newspaper columnist in the country.