Living the Good Life At Age 93


In writing, almost any teacher will tell you that the most elusive quality to teach is voice. It takes a certain maturity for a writer to open to the wonder of her own mind. And when you read someone who knows who they are and isn’t the least bit apologetic about it, it makes for great reading.

My friend Lillian Darr is one of those rare people who live an unapologetic life on and off the page. True to form, when I reviewed her recently released book, Memoirs of a 90-Year-Old Hippie, I asked if she wanted to read what I wrote before it was published, to make sure I had the facts straight. This is a courtesy most people would jump for, but Lillian asked incredulously, “What, you want me to censor you?”

In her tender-hearted and rollicking memoir, Lillian Darr embraces her readers with the same generosity of spirit with which she embraces life. From her wealthy youth in 1930s New York City to her hippie years immersed in the counter-culture of Berkeley, Lillian paints a series of colorful vignettes that draw us in and make us laugh, cry and nod with recognition at the universal truths contained in the small moments of life. Through her writing she reveals her soul with the honesty and sense of wonder that marks a true artist and visionary.

She writes that her real gift is one of being an appreciator. “Yes, I’ve always been appreciative of people, culture—everything that came into my purview—even if I didn’t fully understand it,” she says.

Lillian’s daughter Deborah once sent her a card that sums up Lillian’s gift for appreciating life: “The most visible creators I know of are those artists whose medium is life itself—the ones who express the inexpressible—without brush, hammer, clay or guitar. They neither paint nor sculpt; their medium is being. Whatever their presence touches has increased life. They see and they don’t have to draw. They are the artists of being alive.”

And it doesn’t hurt that, like a female Forrest Gump, in her long life Lillian participated in many historical moments and rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest people in show business.

Born in 1921 in Brooklyn, Lillian later moved with her family to Greenwich Village, down the street from the Copacabana. As an attractive young woman coming of age during the 1940s, she worked for the author Norman Cousins and attended live performances by Frank Sinatra, Art Tatum, and other stars with her family and on dates with servicemen.

Through her first husband, Bob Busch, who worked in theatre, TV and movies on both coasts and later as the casting director for Hawaii Five-O, she met celebrities such as Sid Caesar, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte, Laurence Olivier, and Vivien Leigh.

The Busch family became close friends with the actress Connie Sawyer and the actor Jose Ferrer, who won an Oscar for best actor for his role in Cyrano de Bergerac. The book contains photographs of Bob Busch posing with Ray Walston and Lillian hosting Steve Allen at a fundraiser she organized.

The title of the book refers to the years that Lillian spent in Berkeley, where, as a woman in her forties, she embraced the counter-culture of youth and became an activist in promoting women’s rights and civil rights and protesting the Viet Nam War.

It was also in Berkeley that she began her lifelong practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique. She’s been called “The Mother of the Berkeley TM Center,” which at the time was the most active in the country, and many members of her family also are practitioners.

In later life, Lillian moved to Fairfield, IA, to live near her son Christopher and daughter Judith, and to participate in the TM community there. It wasn’t long before she met the love of her life, the artist Bill Darr, and married for the third time at age 70.

I feel lucky to be Lillian’s friend. At 93, she is busy writing her next book and enjoys cooking meals for her friends and family, spending time with her family and hosting weekly games of Scrabble and Poker in her home.

When I asked Lillian to describe how the TM technique had contributed to her joy of living, she said, “Look, I’m 93 years old and I’m healthy. What more can I say? I think I’m a very good example of what TM can do for you.”

To me, what sets Lillian apart as a writer and as a human being is her ability to be comfortable in her own skin the way most people haven’t learned to do. You can call it self-esteem, you can call it sense of self, you can call it field independence—but whatever it is that she has, it’s a good thing.

Radio Interview with Lillian Darr by Charity Nebbe on Talk of Iowa:

About the Author

Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.

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