ON Inauguration Day, when George Bush turned the White...

Salmagundi

January 25, 1993

ON Inauguration Day, when George Bush turned the White House keys over to William Jefferson Clinton (whatever happened to just plain Bill?), some pundits noted that Mr. Bush had seemed to age markedly in his four years as president.

This observation is usually made of an outgoing president. Who would doubt that the colossal strains of the job would not leave their mark on even the healthiest specimen?

Yet the ages of the presidents of the six-and-a-half decades since Calvin Coolidge suggest there's something about being Chief Executive that adds years to a man's life.

Harry Truman died at 88, Dwight Eisenhower at 78. Herbert Hoover didn't take his leave until he was 90.

What's more, there are five living ex-presidents, the highest number since the time of Lincoln. The Alive Five are Richard Nixon, who just turned 80; Gerald Ford, who would be 80 on July 14; Jimmy Carter, 68; Ronald Reagan, who would turn 82 on Feb. 6; and George Bush, 68.

The post-Coolidge presidents who might be said to have died before their time are John Kennedy, assassinated at age 46; Franklin Roosevelt, who, despite being afflicted with polio and weighted down by the Great Depression and World War II, lived until the age of 63; and Lyndon Johnson, who died at 64, his demise reportedly induced by his depression over the way his political life ended.

Even including FDR, JFK and LBJ, the average age of the post-Coolidge presidents is 73 -- and counting. Subtract those three men and the average age is 79.

So what's the reason for this longevity, which flies in the face of the wear and tear caused by living in what Truman called "the big white prison"? Obviously the top-notch medical care given to presidents plays a big part. So do the regular vacations at unofficial White Houses in such places as Maine, Florida, California, Georgia and Texas. The cushy retirements to those same places don't hurt either.

But just maybe the key reason is that the job, with all its stresses, is so endlessly challenging and fascinating that it can't help but inject a life-giving jolt of energy to the person who performs it.

As for the rest of us who can't count on great jobs, vacations or medical care to prolong our lives, there's always vitamins.

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