Living La Vida Long

When Westporter Helen Faith Keane Reichert died in September — just a few weeks before her 110th birthday — there was a burst of publicity.

The media noted her extended centenarian family:  her brother Peter Keane of Westport (“the baby of the family,” just 101); her brother Irving Kahn, the 105-year-old chairman of the New York investment firm Kahn Brothers, and her sister Lee Kahn, who died 6 years ago at 101.

Now, New York Magazine is paying attention.

The current issue has a story headlined: “What Do a Bunch of Old Jews Know About Living Forever?”

Helen Faith Keane Reichert (Photo/New York Magazine and Olive Villaluna)

It starts with an anecdote about Irving’s youngest son, Thomas Graham Kahn.  (Helen changed her name from Kahn to Kaine in 1936 at the suggestion of an editor at Liberty magazine.  Peter followed suit.)

At 69, he’s president of Kahn Brothers.  How, the story asks, can he take a vacation if the chairman — his 105-year-old dad — won’t?

The story describes the family’s involvement with the Longevity Genes Project at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  The main test group is Ashkenazi Jews.  It’s a fascinating story, delving into genetics, life in Eastern Europe and siblings who at one point were thought to be the oldest brothers and sisters in the world.

There’s also a portrait of Peter Keane, whose home here is on “a pleasant suburban street filled with mature shrubs and trees.”

Glaucoma and macular degeneration have blinded him, but “he looks to be in great shape,” writer Jesse Green says.  “He has a lot of hair, not even all gray; his voice is clear and expressive.”

It adds delightful details:  His wife Beth is just 67.  (They met in 1984, “when she was 40 and Peter a very youthful divorcé of 73.”)

Peter Keane (Photo/New York Magazine and Peter Keane)

The story describes Peter’s life:  his graduation from Cornell with a degree in ornithology; his work (at $17 a week) with photographer Margaret Bourke-White; his work as an assistant cameraman on the sets of “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz”; 2 tours of the Pacific in the Signal Corps with Frank Capra; work on the development of Technicolor; his work in video technology with HBO, until his retirement 20 years ago, at 81.

The New York Magazine article describes the last days of Helen — nicknamed “Happy” — who would have been 110 this past Friday.

It’s a long, fascinating story — one well worth reading.

There are many other Westporters with fascinating stories, of course.  Their lives are what make living here — next to and among them — so rich and deep for the rest of us.

We gain strength from them, even if we don’t know know all the details, or even know them very well at all.

But I can’t imagine anyone with a longer, more fascinating story than the Keane/Kahns.

Even if I knew so little about them, for so many of my own years here.

2 responses to “Living La Vida Long

  1. What a fun story, Dan! Thank you for sharing. I’ll definitely have to read the article in NY Magazine.

  2. Elisabeth Keane

    Actually, today, 11 November 2011, would have been Happy’s 110th birthday. A memorial celebration will take place in NYC this evening.