I met Marie Foa when I was around 25, and she was 55. My husband and I were friends with her son and daughter-in-law, Conrad and Linda, and we were invited to their annual July 4th gala barbecue in Englewood, New Jersey. The sprawling house and property, not to mention Marie herself, intimidated me because I wasn’t raised in such a luxurious environment, with a real pool outside and a real maid inside. Marie seemed like a queen in her palace. We were instructed to use the bathroom in the “pool house.” The main residence was off limits to the hordes of 20-something guests.
Marie Foa turned 100 last Saturday, and I was invited to help celebrate this significant occasion, along with about 150 other friends, relatives, and friends of her family.
Top: Marie arriving at her party and with her three great grandchildren
Bottom: Marie’s daughter Cheryl and the delicious birthday cake with three candles representing 100!
Marie now lives with her daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren in Tenafly, New Jersey, where “I don’t have to do a thing,” she told partygoers. But, Marie does more than people half her age, and then some. She leads a weekly group in conversational Italian at the Englewood Senior Center (I despise the word ‘senior,’ but that’s what it’s called). She dances. She loves riding on the back of motorcycles. She is involved with her extended family’s comings and goings. Although her eyesight is no longer super sharp, her mind definitely is! She’s also beautiful. Really, really beautiful! “She had long blonde tresses,” said her son Conrad. “Her figure was perfect for Italy, but when she returned to the United States after studying in Florence for two years, she lost the weight, and remains slim to this day.”
On summer nights, during her “reign as Queen of the Foa Compound in Englewood, and sure that everyone in the house was asleep, she would swim–in the nude,” Conrad laughed.
Marie and her home might have been a bit intimidating to me 45 years ago, but today I find her downright inspiring. “I love life, and appreciate every day that I am given!” she told a reporter who interviewed her for an article to commemorate her centennial birthday.
Marie’s four grandchildren each paid tribute to “Nonnie” at the party, including Barrett Foa, the handsome, charming and talented TV and Broadway actor who plays Eric Beale on the wildly popular show NCIS Los Angeles. Barrett sang a song to Marie, which you can listen to here.
Barrett even named his adorable six-year-old Shih Tzu Scotch Marie Foa, after his “Nonnie.” As you might guess, Marie also introduced Barrett to Scotch whiskey, still his drink of choice. And, when Marie’s granddaughter, Christine, was asked to write an essay on the person she most admired for her application to Princeton University, she wrote about “Nonnie.” While Christine made her presentation, Marie held Christine’s squirming baby daughter with as much aplomb as if she were a 35-year-old English nanny.
When asked how she maintains her good health, Marie said, “I’ve always eaten good fresh food prepared in a simple way. During my childhood, my mother cooked in the style of Northern Italy, where they do not use heavy sauces or much butter or cream. I still eat that way, with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Marie was married to Mario Foa, whom she met when she tutored him in English after he arrived from Genoa in the 1930s. She volunteered to tutor him for free because he came from the same city as her parents. “He was so delighted that I was helping him and that I wouldn’t accept payment for it, that he asked me out to lunch. Things took off from there,” Marie said. Mario, who went on to become a prominent businessman in the insurance industry, died in 1994.
Marie never stopped giving to others, teaching as a volunteer in an Englewood public school for over 40 years. She also donated her Hammond organ to the school. “She is, and always was, a very nice person,” Conrad said.
Happy Hundredth, Marie!