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The Remarkable 98 Years Of Isabel Dubroff

January 26, 2018
My mother was an admirer of Yogi Berra's, and she shared his philosophy. "It's never over until it's over," he liked to say, and even her final weeks proved that she believed that.
 
She spent most of her last three months in the hospital, fighting for life and not complaining because she so badly wanted to live. Even when I thought she was in her final days, she fought back, and we shared another unexpected month with this remarkable woman, who died Jan. 24 at 98. 
 
Isabel Dubroff lived an incredibly long time. Conceived as World War I came to an end, she was born nine months later in August 1919, when Babe Ruth was still with the Boston Red Sox.
 
She lived in 11 different decades and through 17 presidents. When she was born, women still didn't have the right to vote, television didn't exist and computers were decades away from everyday use.
 
Her most interesting times came in the second half of her life. After more than two decades of marriage and raising two sons, she returned to work, deep into her forties.
 
My mother worked in the insurance business for more than 30 years -- until she was 77. One day she called me and told me I needed to come to her office in Manhattan. It was the only time I ever visited her at work.
 
One of her colleagues was a former New York Yankees infielder, Phil Linz. Linz became famous in 1964 when after a losing series in Chicago, he pulled out a toy harmonica and played "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on the team bus.
 
Berra, the Yankees' manager, wasn't happy about it and told Linz in no uncertain terms to stop playing. "What did he say?" Linz asked Mickey Mantle.
 
"He said, 'Play it louder,'" Mantle told Linz, and a scuffle ensued.
 
When word came out about the incident, Linz got $10,000 from a harmonica company, big money in those days, he happily told me.
 
She was delighted to have introduced a son who wrote about baseball to the only major league player she actually knew.
 
My mother always wanted to learn. When my father, to whom she was married for 54 years, was stricken with Alzheimer's Disease, she educated herself about the illness and was hired by a major drug company to lecture their salesforce about caring for patients with the disease.
 
Near the end of my mother's life, she decided to fulfill her lifelong dream by enrolling in college at 79. She attended classes for seven years until her academic career was ended by a fall that broke her pelvis.
 
One day in her first semester, she called her instructor and said she wouldn't be able to take the scheduled exam that day. She had to attend her husband's funeral, she told him. She was excused.
 
Besides going to college, she volunteered at Methodist Hospital in Brooklyn, where she would spend so much of her final months, and was so proud that she had a son, my brother Jerome, who was a doctor there.
 
After she recovered from the broken pelvis, her mobility was limited, but she still enjoyed life, and avidly followed the Yankees. 
 
Her goal was to live past her 100th birthday. In 2009 when she neared her 90th, she reminded me that then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's mother was over 100. I chuckled, but as the years went on, I realized how truly serious she was about reaching that milestone.
 
When she hit 95, she told me she hoped to live another 10 years, and later said she wanted to see 110. I don't know who's sadder that she didn't make it to 100 -- her or I.
 
She grew up in New York at a time when there were three baseball teams -- the Yankees, the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants.
 
As a young woman, she rooted for the Dodgers, and as an older woman loved the Yankees, but to me, she was always a giant.

Follow Rich on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB 

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Rich Dubroff