Five years ago, I stood on a pier on the South River and watched in wonder as 91-year-old Natalie Loomis pushed off in her yellow kayak for a glorious paddle behind her home.
“I love to be on the water,” she said in the video, her vibrant voice filling the air. “I love to go up the marshes and see the wildlife. There’s a freedom; there’s a joy in being on the water that you can’t equal.”
It was a magical moment, proof anew of exhilaration into one’s 90s.
I always meant to return to see her kayaking again. Then two years ago, I heard that she’d had a heart attack. Today, as she turns 96, I am happy to report that Natalie Loomis is doing well and has made a comeback – not to kayaking just yet, but to most of the other activities that make her a role model for so many, young and old alike.
“Natalie is my idol,” said B.J. Babcock, 90, who knows her through the Community League, which does charitable projects at North Community Church.
Today, Natalie is going out to lunch with friends, but the family celebration has been ongoing since the fall.
“For anybody that age, she has the most positive attitude,” Babcock said. “She doesn't walk, she runs. She is so interested in everything in life. She knits voraciously and she cooks herself when people come to dinner.”
That kitchen duty also has its hazards. Last week she was sporting a bruise on her forehead from banging into a kitchen cabinet door that had been left ajar.
She laughed and launched into the story of how she first caught her late husband’s eye by diving off a bridge in Humarock at age 13.
Loomis was home alone two years ago when she had her heart attack, out of the blue. A Christian Scientist, she had always been healthy and was regularly working out at Curves in Marshfield several days a week. In crippling pain, she dialed 911 and wound up at Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I came home with a nurse and a hospital bed so I could look at the river,” she said. “My girls thought that would be the most healing thing for me, and it was.
“Pretty soon I was back to my normal self, and I just put it behind me and expected I would be well from then on. And I pretty much am.”
She’s given up Curves (too many exercise restrictions now) but walks every day and gets out often to various community connections. Her daughters, Tally Jones and Barbara Chisholm in New Hampshire and Betsy Whitney in Norfolk, often stay with her, as does a younger friend. She lost her son, Warren Loomis, to cancer. She has six grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.
She is rarely alone, but when she is, she is apt to be on the computer working as recording secretary for her Smith College class, the Class of 1938.
She reads for the blind at the Talking Information Center every Thursday, attends Community League meetings twice a month, volunteers at the Clift Rogers Free Library and Consignment Shop in Marshfield on Mondays, and is in a book club.
If you want to get together with her, she has to check her engagement book.
She hasn’t kayaked since the heart attack – “mostly because my children haven't helped me down the river bank” – but she still hopes to get out on the water again.
She has stopped driving but has assistance with her shopping.
Her prescription for longevity?
“I think it's important to keep active, both physically and mentally.”
Loomis is also modest.
“I have been very, very fortunate,” she said.