To this champion putter, 100 years is no handicap

April 09, 2001|By Kevin Cowherd

THIS IS a story about a man named Edward M. Rothen, who will turn 100 years old Friday and who looks 25 years younger and has the kind of attitude about life that makes Jimmy Buffett look like a bundle of nerves.

Do you know who was president when Ed Rothen was born?

Lincoln!

OK, that's a joke. It wasn't Lincoln. But it was William McKinley. Imagine being born two years before the Wright Brothers made their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk and living long enough to see the wonders of the computer age.

Since I have the opposite problem of Ed Rothen - the tendency to look and feel about 25 years older than is listed on my birth certificate - I drove out to Blakehurst retirement community in Towson the other day to pump him for the secret to his longevity.

"There is no secret," Ed Rothen said amiably.

Look, I said, I'm a desperate man. Really, what's the key, temperance?

"Oh, I luv-v-v scotch," he said. "That's my weakness. Cutty Sark on the rocks. Sometimes I'll have more than one."

But surely you had no other bad habits.

"I smoked like a chimney. Never was without a cigar in my mouth from morning 'til night. I'd go through five or six cigars a day. Just quit 10 years ago."

Well, your diet must be incredibly healthy.

"I love steak. New York strip or filet mignon. They cook it great here. You don't hardly need a fork."

I see.

"Everything they say not to do, I did," Rothen said with a smile.

At this point, it occurred to me that about the only thing I hadn't brought up yet was loose women.

And with the way the conversation was going, we probably didn't want to go there, either.

Rothen said he does try to walk every day around the Blakehurst pond and back, maybe half a mile. And he has good genes - both his parents lived into their 90s.

As we talked, Ed Rothen stood with his putter on Blakehurst's impeccably manicured putting green, where he was trying to roll in some tricky 25-footers, the hole being uphill, with a heavy break to the right.

On only his third putt, the ball landed two inches from the hole.

Rothen smiled and said: "That's better."

I looked around, just in case this was some kind of setup and we were being filmed for some new "Candid Camera" segment.

Did I mention Rothen was the co-winner of the Blakehurst putting championship? I should probably mention that.

He tied with another Blakehurst resident named John Winslow for the first-place trophy. Winslow, who also plays tennis, is said to be a terrific athlete, but was probably burdened by youth and inexperience, being only 90 years old.

Rothen, who has lived at Blakehurst three years, also took home the trophy for most holes-in-one (13, four more than the runners-up).

Not long ago, he also tried his hand at lawn bowling. "But when I leaned over with the ball to roll it, I couldn't get up."

He smiled again. "I take life as it is, and enjoy it," he said. "I know what my limitations are. And believe you me, I got limitations."

As we sat on a bench in the warm sunshine, Rothen told me a bit about his life.

He was born in Manhattan, the youngest of seven children. He grew up in the Bronx and in New Jersey and graduated with a degree in engineering from Cooper Union, a prestigious New York college.

He bought his first house in September of 1929, the day before the stock market crashed, ushering in the Great Depression.

He was too young to fight in World War I and a dad already past 40 when World War II broke out. He lived for years in New Jersey and he and his wife of 58 years, Marion, raised a son, Robert, and a daughter, Ethel, as he worked as an electrical engineer and vice president of a company in New York.

The kids must have had brains, too, because Robert went to MIT and Ethel to Vassar. In 1988, five years after Marion died, Ed Rothen moved to Maryland to be close to Ethel, who lives in Ruxton.

All in all, he says, it's been a good life. A wonderful wife, two children, six grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, a great job while he worked, good health.

I asked him what he thought about as his 100th birthday approached. For a moment he was silent.

"I just wonder if I'm gonna be able to make the next one," he said at last. "I could go to sleep tonight and that could be the end of it."

Suddenly, he brightened. Then he reached into one pocket and pulled out his wallet.

"I still got a driver's license!" he says. "Look, I can still drive!"

Get out, I say.

I mean, he looks great and all. And he's sharp as a tack. But the reflexes, the vision ... I'm not sure you'd want to see Ed Rothen in the next lane as you're flying down the Jones Falls Expressway.

"Oh, I wouldn't dare drive a car," he says after showing me the license. "I wouldn't do it for all the tea in China. But I could still do it in an emergency."

This Thursday, they'll throw a birthday party for Ed Rothen at Blakehurst, complete with champagne punch and birthday cake. The next day, when he officially turns 100, he'll celebrate at the Hunt Valley Marriott with his kids and other family members.

One hundred years old. How does it feel? I asked Rothen, as we shook hands and said so-long.

"About the same as it felt when I turned 90," he said.

He said it with a straight face, too.

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