Hedda Bolgar’s job just doesn’t get old. Seeing patients four days a week, the 102-year-old psychologist and psychoanalyst also trains new therapists and has scheduled lectures well into next year.
“I love working with patients,” Bolgar told TODAY.com. “I love to listen to them. I love to understand – even when they’re not saying it.”
Bolgar is the oldest living member of the American Psychology Association. In September, she flew to Washington D.C. to receive an award for America’s Outstanding Oldest Worker by Experience Works, a non-profit that helps senior workers.
“She doesn’t let grass grow on her feet,” says Peter Wolson, a psychologist and psychoanalyst who practices and trains students at the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies, an institute Bolgar co-founded in 1970.
In fact, she’s so busy friends have suggested she “get off the horse”, Wolson says. But the sharp, healthy and happy Bolgar doesn’t see why. She’s eternally fascinated by the unconscious, where she says pesky problems hide.
Lived through war, famine — and loss of her spouse.
“Ultimately what really interests me is to see people change and have better lives – and feel liberated,” says Bolgar, who says she thinks of her patients even when she’s not with them.
She practices from her home in the tony Brentwood area of Los Angeles, scheduling patients so they never run into each other (people talk). Patients can get cozy in a chair while she sits on a beige couch in her office adorned with flowers and a view of the backyard pool.
Bolgar, born in Switzerland in 1909, usually relates in some way to patients she meets – having lived through war, famine, leaving her country, parents’ divorce and loss of her spouse, friends and pets (she’s kept cats for 40 years and just adopted kittens). The best thing she has done in life, she once said, was marrying her husband, who she calls “the love of my life.”
“When he died, it was really, for many years, the end of the world. My mourning was endless. It seemed endless, until one day I decided I was alive,” Bolgar says in “The Beauty of Aging”, an upcoming film about vivacious women over 80 (http://www.beautyofaging.com).
While her patients’ tussles can link to a difficult childhood, Bolgar, who ultimately grew up in Hungary and Austria, can’t even recall fighting at home. She speaks admiringly of her mother, a journalist, and her father, a political ambassador. Bolgar attributes her longevity, in part, to her genes: Her mom lived to 96. (She’s also been a vegetarian since 14, loves sleep and doesn’t get “anxious about things that haven’t happened.”)
‘Marked my life in a way’
Bolgar traces her penchant for protecting others to first grade. Another teacher dragged a second grader to her class and asked a question that stumped the older student. Bolgar later boasted to her mother that she supplied the correct answer.
“I went home and felt very proud,” Bolgar says. “She listened. And then asked, ‘Did it ever occur how that other child must have felt?’ I was 6. I’ve never forgotten it. I always thought I was glad she said it. It marked my life in a way.”
Jasmin Aline Persch, MSNBC