Secrets to Living a Long Life

Doctor and his oldest patients share insights

Every day Ray Barclay gets up around 7 a.m. He eats breakfast, usually oatmeal or cereal, and works in the garden for a few hours. At night he has meat and potatoes for dinner with his wife Elsie, and watches the evening news. He lives a pretty typical life for a retired banker living in North Seattle. Except for one extraordinary thing — he’s 100.

“I’m the oldest person I know,” he said in a chipper voice. Barclay is the kind of guy who will look you straight in the eye and smile. He’s kind, energetic, and enjoys the simple things in life like a Mr. Goodbar at the end of the day, the TV show Mash, and his darling wife and grown twin sons. How he’s lived long enough to see 100 birthday candles is a mystery to him. “Everybody asks (about the secrets to turning 100.) Everybody!” he said. “I just say, I can’t tell you. I don’t know.”

Barclay and Eleanor Jauch of Shoreline, who is 101-years-old, are both patients of Dr. Milton Curtis at the EvergreenHealth Clinic in Kenmore. They don’t know each other, but they’ve been seeing Curtis for about 30 years and counting.

Barclay and Jauch are two of the nearly 53,000 people in the U.S. who are 100 or older. Neither one of them feels like they have any great insight into life longevity, but they do have some similarities.

20151009_100YearOlds_103They’re both a healthy weight, they hardly ever smoked, they believe in God, they love to read, they eat well, and they still live every day to the fullest – and get up early. Barclay often runs errands in his Prius (yes, he’s still driving, and loves his amazing gas mileage) and Jauch keeps her diary up-to-date, and does all her own bookkeeping.

But perhaps their biggest bond as centenarians is their love of gardening. Both enjoy the quiet act of planting flowers and waiting for new buds to blossom. It’s something to look forward to, something that stimulates a positive focus on new life, rather than the inevitable end of it. According to their doctor, gardening is common among centenarians. It’s a gentle form of exercise with a satisfying reward.

“I read an article once, and they looked at a whole bunch of people over 100 to see what was special about that group. There were more gardeners than anything else,” he said.

Neither Barclay nor Jauch were particularly athletic when they were young, but during The Great Depression, Barclay’s family moved from Seattle out to a 5-acre lot in Alderwood where he had grueling chores.

“My brother and I, we had to cut wood with a cross cut saw, back and forth. So we sure got our exercise,” he said.

Around the year both Barclay and Jauch were born, there were only 48 stars on the American flag; women did not have the right to vote; Babe Ruth had just hit his first home run; and a newborn named Francis “Frank” Sinatra was being cradled in Jersey.

Both remember The Depression being among the hardest eras to live through. They said it was a struggle far more severe than the economic turmoil the country felt in 2008. But the hardship that came with losing a father was among their biggest obstacles in life.

20151009_100YearOlds_144“Probably the most stress that I’ve had in my life is when my mother and dad went through a divorce. My dad went back to Canada, and I didn’t get to see him anymore. That was stressful. I missed him,” said Barclay. “My brother and I were never close to [my stepdad]. Never. I’m telling you, to this day I regret that she got married because he was so different. There’s nothing like your real dad.”

Jauch lost her father when she was only 5. He was in his mid-20s when he died from a flu epidemic that hit Washington around 1920. When he died, they were living in a three-room home in Eastern Washington, surrounded by sagebrush and rattlesnakes.

“I remember the night he died. He asked me to come see him in his room, so I went in there to see him. … And I remember this so plainly, he said ‘Go get my coat. I’m going on a long journey,’” she said. “So I went out like a little kid and asked my uncle, who was there at the time, to give me my dad’s coat because he was going on a long journey. And he said, ‘No you can’t go back (into his room.’) And within a few hours, he was gone.”

When you live to be 101, you suffer a lot of loss. After 62 years of marriage she said goodbye to her husband. She also buried her son – who died shortly after earning a doctorate degree is high-energy physics.

If she could go back in time and tell her younger self anything, she’d want to know that life unfolds in ways you often can’t control. “So many things in life you can’t change, and you might as well accept it,” she said.

Dr. Curtis thinks that part of Barclay and Jauch’s life longevity has to do with their positive outlook on the world.

“Both of them have been through some hard times. But their general attitude has been one of positivity, and overcoming. And I think they both have a belief in The Bible, and I think that’s made a difference.”

Barclay and his wife Elsie have been married 52 years. When he looks back on the best times of his life, he’s often been hand-in- hand with her.

“I think the most important thing, and happiest thing is our married life you know. I really do,” he said.

They met at People’s National Bank (now U.S. Bank) where they both worked. But Barclay wasn’t interested in being anyone’s husband at the time.

“I was never going to get married. I was going to be a confirmed bachelor. I was in my 40s, and then she came along,” he said.

These days they spend most of their time together. He helps her get dressed in the morning, and she’ll pray for him if he’s feeling anxious. Every year they take a trip to Hawaii. But it’s not a vacation full of new adventures. He doesn’t have a bucket list. It’s more of an easy way to enjoy those simple, precious moments, like a stroll on the beach with the love of his life.

“I just live day by day,” he said. “I don’t think of a future much at all. Elsie and I, we just go places, and you know, I enjoy life.”

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is the managing editor at 425 magazine. Email her.
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