Wisdom Project | Reggie Schatz, 98, Says “Family Is Everything”

By | Jul 01, 2024

The Wisdom Project at Moment: Inspirational conversations with wise people who have been fortunate to live long lives

This week’s conversation is with Regina (“Reggie”) Schatz, 98, of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

To her family and friends, Reggie Schatz is the Queen of Good Deeds. There was the time she offered her home for six months to a young Cuban woman who only spoke Spanish—Reggie arranged English lessons for her, found a school that led to her certification as a beautician and then started searching for a husband for her. (Though another friend ultimately found the right guy.) Reggie and her husband of 55 years, Ted, z’l, threw the church wedding. By then, six months with Reggie and her family had turned into 12 years, and the woman, Teresa, had become a beloved member of the Schatz clan—a closeness that has remained through the next generations.

In her senior community, Reggie chaired or sat on six different committees, including the Friday Night Services one she started. She does hundreds of small and big favors daily for members of her community, from check-in calls to welcoming newcomers. At her husband’s nursing home in the last years of his life, Reggie was known as a goodwill ambassador: she visited with every new resident, and reassured their loved ones that they were in good hands. One resident’s husband, Earl Mazo, became Reggie’s second husband in 2005, two years after their first loves had passed.

Born in Rochester, New York to Bertha and Adolf Wicks, a real estate salesman, Reggie moved with her family to Washington, D.C. when she was 16. She became keenly interested in Judaism through her older sister Ceal’s deep involvement in Zionist groups and causes. She and Ted Schatz had a son, Stuart, and a daughter, Nancy. She worked as a court reporter, an occupation she loved not only because it taught her about the workings of legal proceedings, but also because it gave her an eyewitness view of important decisions at the Washington, DC Board of Education, including school integration in 1954, and at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) at a time of increased awareness about the hazards of smoking. (She remembers when tobacco companies put their first health warnings on cigarette packages in the late 1960s.) Husband Ted was a retail owner; his businesses included a Hallmark card shop in Maryland for 25 years. Her second husband, Earl Mazo, was a newspaper journalist whose 1959 book, Richard Nixon: A Political and Personal Portrait, is still widely considered the landmark pre-presidential Nixon biography. Earl and Reggie were married for just 15 months before he died following a fall at home.

Moment recently visited the 98-year-old grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of 14 children to hear her life’s lessons.

You are an extraordinarily loving person. What makes a loving person? How do you become one?

I have had so many people that I’ve loved in my life and I think it’s that love that makes me interested in all people.

Who has inspired you?

My sister, Ceal. She was older than me by three years, and wiser. She belonged to a lot of clubs. Well, when I say belonged, she was always president of every organization. She was a fantastic person. She was [passionate] about Israel and Zionism and being Jewish. Without her influence, I don’t know if I would feel as strongly [connected] to Judaism as I do.

What else stands out in your life as something that’s deeply influenced and shaped you?

I think my generation has had more important events happen worldwide than any other generation. The second World War, of course, had a real impact. “Current events” would probably be the best way I can say it, because we’ve seen and always been very interested in what’s going on in the world. That’s still true.

As an American teenager during the war, what do you remember about it?

It was a very scary time. My mother’s parents, siblings, and their children were all in Czechoslovakia. We didn’t know exactly what was happening to them, but we understood there could be serious danger. I still remember my mother’s tears when the news came that many of her family members had been murdered.

Once a week I would go to the USO; there were always soldiers or sailors there, and I’d just talk to them and have a Coke or something to eat. I’d spend the whole night, along with other visitors, talking to the soldiers about their experiences and offering them encouragement.

And I remember working [in wartime] while I was still in high school. The Board of Education needed clerks, people that knew how to type. I’d taken typing, and another girl and I went to work there. And that became almost a lifelong career for me. I enrolled in a night school course: Court Reporting. I worked during the day for the Board of Education and at night I learned Stenotype machine shorthand.

How long did you work as a court reporter?

Oh, a short time—about 40 years!

You worked while raising your children at a time when most men weren’t exactly supportive of women in the workplace. How was it for you back then?

The first couple of years, I worked full-time. After my first child was born, I became a freelancer. There were only about a hundred court reporters in Washington, D.C. A lot of them worked for the government. As a freelancer, I knew about four big companies downtown. They would call me with assignments, so I worked part-time when I was available.

You’ve said you are lucky to have a very happy life. What’s made it happy?

First of all, my children. I have wonderful children, and they have wonderful spouses! And both my husbands.

After several decades of our happy marriage and the blessings of good health, my first husband, Ted, unfortunately developed cognitive difficulties that even affected his physical ability to walk. We were still managing together at home until he needed emergency appendix surgery. The necessary anesthesia worsened his cognitive problems, which could not be overcome with rehab. He was in a nursing home for three years. When he went in, I didn’t realize that he was never coming home; I thought he’d convalesce there and come home when he was well again.

A Jewish woman, Rita, moved in on the same corridor as my husband. I got to know her and one day, I walked in and there was a man there. She said, Reggie, “I want you to meet my husband, Earl.” And so we all became friends, me and Ted and Rita and Earl. Every afternoon we’d get together and gossip and so forth. One day, Earl told me that his wife’s doctor had said she could go home. But four days before she was supposed to leave, she was suddenly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Very sadly, she died within a couple of days. And then two weeks later, Teddy died, also very unexpectedly, from congestive heart issues.

Earl and I became better friends as we supported each other in our surprise grief. We got married two years later. We’d been married for only 15 months when he had a bad fall in our apartment. Two very happy marriages.

How does someone attract a mate with whom to have a happy marriage?

The first thing you have to do is get to know one another. You need to know that person! Ted and I were childhood sweethearts. We spent our youth together and we knew each other very well. With Earl, although we met [when our spouses were still alive], we were hanging out together for two years after that. We’d go someplace, like to the mall, and walk around, get ice cream. He lived in the building where I live now, and I would come for dinner. We had a lot of time to talk and get to know one another.

How long does it take to really know someone?

I would say a minimum of a year. That would be my minimum. But if it’s longer than that, so much the better.

Many people say that life partners should be best friends with each other. Do you believe that?

That’s really true!


Reggie Schatz

Is there anything that you feel you missed out on in your life? Anything you haven’t done that you wanted to do?


I was always sorry that I hadn’t gone to college. I loved school. I’d taken college courses. If I wasn’t worried about making a living, I would’ve gone right to college. But I think that’s really the only regret I have.

How do you keep learning today?

Through listening to the news on TV and reading the press. Also, I’m in a book club with my grandson, Noah. He and his wife live in Paris, he’s a talented writer. One day he calls me up and says, “Grandma, what would you think of us forming a book club?” “Oh,” I said, “that would be wonderful.” The first time, he picked out four different books and then I chose the one we would read. This was maybe three years ago. We’re still doing it. We speak once a week and every hundred pages we talk books.

How do different generations find common ground? To take just one example, young people today are very accepting of people’s differences, like gender and sexual orientation. They believe that older people don’t understand.

I don’t feel that way. My niece is gay and I feel very, very close to her, even though my sister’s been gone for so many years. She comes regularly to see me. One of my best friends has a very accomplished son; he met this man in college and they’ve been together ever since. One day she said to me, “Reggie, I couldn’t love my son any more than I do.” Yes! It’s the person that counts, not who they pick as a partner.

What life’s experiences should young people not miss out on?

Marriage and children, because family is everything.

At 98, does anything still surprise you?

I never thought antisemitism would resurface and rear its ugly head.

With the blatant display of antisemitism in America today, do you think it’s harder to live a Jewish life here now than it was a few decades ago?

I always had Jewish friends but I did not have religious parents. They didn’t even keep kosher, and there weren’t as many Jews around us, or maybe I just didn’t know as many Jews. We were more isolated. So, I think in a way it’s easier to be Jewish today, even with so many antisemites coming out of the woodwork. Things are so open and that’s wonderful—when it’s Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah is in the newspapers; when it’s Hanukkah time, Hanukkah’s in the newspapers. When my grandchildren went to Israel, the whole class went.

Yes, what’s going on now is a little scary. But being Jewish is still a privilege.

Top image: Reggie Schatz in Israel. Photo courtesy of Reggie Schatz.

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