October 16, 2021

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Fit And Go Forward

102-year-old woman, mathematician gets second dose of COVID-19 vaccine

At 102 years old, Ruth Anderson was born during the Spanish flu pandemic, lived through the polio epidemic and has now survived the coronavirus crisis.

Last week, the mathematician received her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Naples, Florida, and felt relieved.

Ruth Anderson, who was born in 1918, gets her second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Naples, Florida, on Jan. 19.Courtesy The Arlington of Naples

“I feel as though I’m free from the virus, I hope,” Anderson told TODAY. “I feel as though I can maybe venture out more.

“I like to go shopping for clothes and I like to go to a grocery store. It’s better than telling people what to get for you… but I didn’t go any place (last year).”

Anderson was nursing a sore arm after the second shot, but otherwise felt fine. Since getting immunized, she’s finally been able to get a trim of her thick hair, which grew so long in quarantine that “they should have charged me for two haircuts,” she said.

The tech-savvy centenarian talked with TODAY after finishing a Zoom call elsewhere. She owns a laptop and an iPhone, and FaceTimes with her daughter every night. Computers have been a part of her life for many decades.

Anderson, who was born in 1918 and grew up in Boston, majored in math when she went to the University of Massachusetts and was planning to become a teacher.

But as World War II broke out, she was hired by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to do computing for physicists who were developing radar.

“You couldn’t be very much in my day except a secretary or nurse or a teacher,” Anderson said. “So I wanted to teach high school math.” World War II changed those plans.Courtesy Ruth Anderson

After the war, Anderson was hired by the U.S. Navy to work in California, where she helped track drones. That’s where she met her future husband.

Science has been at the center of the whole family. Besides Anderson’s career as a mathematician, her husband once worked for NASA and her daughter used to work for Apple.

Anderson with her husband and daughter in 1956.Courtesy Ruth Anderson

Today, Anderson lives in The Arlington of Naples, a retirement community that’s part of the Blue Zones Project by Sharecare, which promotes longevity by applying lessons learned from places where people live the longest.

She enjoys the effect her age can have on others.

“When you make a phone call to Blue Cross or any of the government institutions, the first thing they ask you when they pick up the phone is: What is your date of birth? And when I say it’s 1918, there’s usually a dead silence,” Anderson said.

Anderson enjoys a sunny day at the beach in 2014.Courtesy Ruth Anderson

The centenarian credits her long healthy life to being optimistic and positive, calling herself a happy person.

“Everybody has bad times, you just live with them and keep smiling,” she noted. “Like what do you do with the virus? You just accept all the limitations and go on.”

But Anderson was practical, too, noting that she has enough resources to do and buy what she wants, which helps, she said.

Until she broke her hip two years ago, Anderson had never been to a hospital to be treated for an illness, she said. Longevity does run in her family, with both of her parents each living to be 93.

Anderson has always been active and still walks, though she now uses a cane when she goes outdoors.

She’s never been a smoker, but enjoys an occasional small glass of wine. She doesn’t have a special diet.

“I like to go to Dunkin’ Donuts for coffee and a Munchkin, and I haven’t been able to do that,” Anderson said of her life in quarantine.

Anderson was looking forward to getting her COVID-19 vaccine and felt relieved to be able to get both shots.Courtesy Ruth Anderson

She’s now looking forward to seeing her daughter — who lives in Seattle — in person sometime soon, though she doesn’t want her to travel just yet while the coronavirus outbreak is still not under control. But her optimistic side shone through.

“I think we’ll get over the pandemic… and things will improve in the country,” she said.

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