Pictured above: Dr. Marilyn Heins.
Bingo in the morning, a rousing game of shuffleboard in the afternoon and the early bird special for dinner.
The above sentence is an image many folks had of the senior lifestyle back in the day. Trailblazer Dr. Marilyn Heins, age 88, is a shining example of “That was then, this is now.”
Calling Tucson home for the past 40 years, Dr. Heins is easily recognizable around town in her trademark red glasses. Originally from Boston, she is a third generation “cultural Jew,” as she puts it, the daughter of supportive parents, who encouraged her from a very young age to persevere and succeed.
Marilyn became interested in psychiatry at age 15 and learned that medical school was a prerequisite to practice it. “However, I decided to become a pediatrician,” the young-spirited octogenarian reminisces, “figuring that working with parents could prevent psychiatric problems.” And that is exactly what she did.
Accepted at Radcliffe College (now a part of Harvard University) in 1947, she recalls, “On the first day of college, the dean told us we were there for one purpose only: to become educated mothers to our children.” Times have changed dramatically since those words were spoken and Marilyn is one of the pioneers who has been a big part of those changes.
After college came medical school and residency at Columbia University in New York, there were only 10 women in her class of 110 students, of whom six graduated on time, including Marilyn.
This hard-working pediatrician’s medical career included a brief stint in private practice but was primarily in medical education at the university level.
During a vacation in Jamaica, she met veterinarian Dr. Milton Lipson. “We knew within a week that we would marry. Milton was very proud of me,” says Marilyn, “and bragged that he took his own doctor with him when we traveled.” The couple had a girl and a boy (today a physician and musician respectively) and were married for 47 years.
Recruited for the position of associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Arizona, Marilyn moved to Tucson with her family in 1979; she retired as vice dean in 1990.
Sadly, Milton died in 2007.
Marilyn was alone for the next six years until a friend introduced her to Dr. Milt Francis, a recent widower. The two have been together ever since and enjoy many activities together.
Hearing about her jam-packed life left me wanting to know more, so I decided to ask her a few questions.
Q: You became a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star in 1989. How did you get the job?
A: I submitted a column to the Star and was accepted.
Q: What topics do you write about?
A: I started by mostly answering questions from young parents. Now I write a bi-monthly column about the lifecycle, from birth to AOA (advanced old age) which I am! My best tip for AOA folks? Take preventative measures to avoid falls.
Q: In addition to columns, are you doing any other writing?
A: I’m in the process of writing my third book.
Q: What advice do you have for women who want to “do it all?”
A: Marry an understanding man who is not threatened by you. If possible, secure outside help. You can do it!
Q: What is the best way to age gracefully?
A: Keep busy doing things you love but not so busy that you don’t have downtime to watch the sunset!
Barbara Russek, a Tucson nearly native, has been a freelance writer for the past 13 years.