Christine Dohrmann’s wonderful post about Women & Philanthropy got me thinking about all of the amazing, generous women I’ve had the privilege of knowing – including Christine, herself. But few have had more of an influence on me than world-famous ceramicist, Beatrice Wood.
An artist and potter, Beatrice Wood was a contemporary of French artist, Marcel Duchamp, and writer, Henri-Pierre Roché. She began her career studying art and theater in Paris, worked as an actress in New York, and became a fixture in the Avant Garde art movement. She also served as an inspiration for the character of Rose DeWitt Bukater in James Cameron’s film, Titanic, after the director read her autobiography.
I first met Beatrice Wood in 1990 when she came to San Francisco to help raise funds for a non-profit organization committed to curing Alzheimer’s disease. I had just begun my career in healthcare and when the organization hosting the charity event asked the medical center foundation I worked with to share the costs, I was lucky enough to be assigned to the project.
At age 97, many would have expected Beatrice to appear old, doddering and weak. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Beatrice Wood was a petite woman with the strength of a lion and an unwavering enthusiasm for living life to the fullest.
I arrived at the Fairmont Hotel to pick her up an hour before the noon event. She had driven in from Ojai, California with her gentleman friend, Singh, the evening before – a six-hour trip.
When I approached her with my hand extended, she took it in hers, placed it on her heart and shared words I always remember: “LeeAnn, I thought of you last evening. I know we will be dear friends.” I was hooked. That was the moment I fell in love with Beatrice Wood.
I would make the trip to Ojai many times over the coming years and was privileged to attend her 100th birthday with my son, Josh, who was attending nearby Loyola University at the time. It was the first time Beatrice shared one of her favorite sayings with me: “I love chocolate, apple cider and young men – not necessarily in that order.”
I met Beatrice at a critical moment in my life when I’d reached a crossroads and I needed to make some decisions that involved huge commitments. My children were getting older and needing me less, and my husband was knee deep in his own successful business. But I had dropped out of college after completing my first year and if I wanted to move forward with any career, I needed to go back and finish the next three years at warp-speed.
After lunch at her table in Ojai, I mentioned I was unsure about returning to school and changing careers. She became very quiet and nodded her head slowly in a way that was uniquely hers. Then she covered my hand with hers and said, “My dear LeeAnn, if you live to be my age, you will have over 50 more years of living to do. I think it is time to jump in with both feet and start doing new things. The worst that can happen is that you fail. And if you fail, all you need to do is pick yourself up and start something else.”
I still hear those words over and over again, every time I attempt to learn new things or start new projects. In that respect, 360Women would not exist at all without having had Beatrice Wood in my life.
My time spent with this incredible woman taught me so many lessons, but here a few that might also benefit you.
- Remain interested in all that is going on around you and around the universe.
- Go out of your way to meet and spend time with people who are younger than you. explore what the next generation is doing and accomplishing.
- Never retire. Your work and your passion for it encourages women to thrive; especially as you age.
Beatrice Wood passed away at 105 years of age. The night before she was in her studio, finishing yet another new piece of work.
What stays with me most is the eternal reminder that none of us are too old to create new ideas or new businesses. Begin something new. Now.
“Life can be as wonderful as you believe it can be.” – Beatrice Wood