The Two-Way
3:40 pm
Tue September 27, 2011

Helen Reichert, Who Could Bounce Back From Stress, Dies At 109

Originally published on Tue September 27, 2011 4:28 pm

A passing of note:

Helen Reichert, who Morning Edition introduced to listeners in April, died on Sunday. She was 109.

In that April commentary for Morning Edition, Dr. Mark Lachs said of his patient that:

"Unusual longevity often has a genetic basis, and Reichert probably does have a gene that contributes to her unusual longevity. But she also exhibits a powerful trait geriatricians call adaptive competence.

"I define it loosely as the ability to bounce back from stress. Many scientists view this solely as biological stress. But many of us who care for older patients see adaptive competence as psychologically critical as well.

"You don't get to be 109 without life hurling a few curveballs at you, and Reichert has had more than her share: bereavement, gender discrimination, medical issues. And after each, she dusts herself off and moves on."

She also enjoyed a beer, chocolate truffles and telling Lachs to mind his own business — she'd outlived several other physicians.

Following Reichert's death, Lachs sent this message to our colleagues at Morning Edition:

"Helen past away died peacefully on Sunday, just shy of her 110th birthday. I suspect her only regret would be not to see her beloved and longstanding home attendant Olive (who was credited with the photo you posted on your website) give birth to her first child later this year — Helen never had children and wanted to be in the delivery room with her.

"When I saw her last week she was so excited by that prospect she could barely contain herself. Olive told me that earlier [Sunday, Reichert] put her hands on [Olive's] stomach and said — 'beautiful' — before passing quietly. How's that for going out on a high note?"

Update at 4:30 p.m. ET: At the time of her death, Reichert was Cornell's oldest alumna, according to The Cornell Daily Sun. It adds that:

"Throughout her life, Reichert vigorously promoted a rigid recipe for success: chocolate truffles, hamburgers, Budweiser beer, cigarettes and New York nightlife. Strictly forbidden were vegetables, exercising, getting up early and complaining."

And it notes her nickname was "Happy."

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