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latest news  Chronicle: He just turned 108.  Here is his secret for a long life

At his birthday party on Wednesday, Morrie Markoff was telling me about his family’s difficult journey through the pandemic. His older brother died, and for a moment it looked like Morrie might follow him.

“My mom thought she was going to lose me because I had a temperature of 104 degrees,” Morrie said. “And I fought him. Incredible.”

What’s more amazing is that Morrie wasn’t talking about the current pandemic. He was talking about the Spanish flu of 1918.

Morrie just turned 108.

“He is now the 24th oldest person in the United States,” said Morrie’s son Steve, who hosted the birthday party in his backyard in Pacific Palisades.

Morrie Markoff is three years behind the leader of the pack, according to a gerontology website.

At his party, Morrie thought, talked and even sang to his wife Betty, who died at 103. Most marriages have ups and downs, just like Morrie and Betty. But in her absence, he seems to have fallen in love with her all over again.

“You were my daughter,” he sang to the woman he calls Betsy. “I wake up in the morning to greet the day of the newborn. I can’t wait to see you and say “Betsy doll, I love you”. I love you.'”

I asked Morrie if he thought he could be with her again, somewhere, and he said he didn’t know what was beyond this life.

“Nobody was back and forth,” he said.

I corrected him, reminding Morrie that he and I met because we both briefly kicked the bucket. In 2012 I wrote that I had been resuscitated after flatlining with sudden cardiac arrest. Morrie emailed me saying we should “hang out” because the same thing had happened to him the day before he turned 99.

He invited me to the LADWP cafeteria across from his Bunker Hill apartment and we had a cup of coffee. Since then I have been to Morrie’s 100th birthday, Betty’s 100th and their 75th wedding anniversary.

“Being old hasn’t been bad,” Betty told me when I first met her. “The most difficult thing is when you see your children becoming seniors. It’s really difficult.

Shortly after I met them, the Markoffs were exploring downtown Los Angeles by bus when they encountered another passenger who happened to be the owner of an art gallery. Morrie mentioned that he owned an appliance repair shop in Hollywood and in his spare time made sculptures out of scrap metal.

The gallery owner took a look at his work, was flabbergasted at the quality, and held Morrie’s first-ever art exhibition at his gallery in Chinatown.

Morrie was 100 at the time.

For her next project, Morrie has been working day and night on a memoir. He called it “Keep Breathing”, which was his longtime response to anyone who asked him for the secret to long life. Morrie, a New York native, sold his new book at a booth at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.

He was 103 years old.

My late colleague Gary Friedman and I were visiting the Markoffs one day when Friedman learned that Morrie had been an amateur photographer for decades. Morrie pulled out his photo albums and Friedman, an ace photographer himself, said the black-and-white images of Morrie belonged to a museum.

“His zest for life and his curiosity really kept him alive. Also, good genes,” Steve said. “Everything for him is exciting. How did it happen? How did it happen?”

Morrie told me he thought he was born curious.

“No one can see around the corner,” he said. “But I will watch. So I started traveling the world when I was about 14 years old.

When Morrie finished his first book, he started another. He told me last year that he thought he duplicated himself, so there might not be a second part. But that didn’t stop him from writing, often for hours a day. He told me that he had crawled out of bed in the middle of the night once, because an idea had occurred to him. His guardian, Danny Ching, wondered what he was doing.

Morrie handwritten on lined paper. Old school. Steve and his wife, Jadwiga, said that every week he completes another 30 or 40 pages of random thoughts, sometimes more. Much of the material is uploaded to Morrie’s blog.

“I am a cautious man,” Morrie wrote last August. “I will take all advised precautions to avoid being infected with the current deadly coronavirus which is wreaking havoc every day. … Of course, the current virus is deadlier than the 1918 flu pandemic.”

Here is an entry from November:

“I’m relaxed, exhausted, and thinking about the long life I’ve lived and what I’ve accomplished. Starting as a poor kid in a vermin-infested New York building in my life now. As a realist , I know I won’t be around for very long I wonder if there’s something I haven’t done that I want to do. No. “

Morrie celebrated his 108th birthday with his family — Steve, Jadwiga, Thomas, Emily, Nancy, Haile and Danny. His daughter Judith, who celebrated from afar in Seattle, told me it looks like her dad is getting younger rather than older.

Morrie’s gift was a T-shirt bearing the name of his book – “Keep Breathing”. Jadwiga pulled out a sparkler-lit cake and Morrie smiled.

Did he want to make a birthday wish?

Just one, Morrie said.

“Let me go to 109.”

Steve.lopez@latimes.com



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