Celebrating a centennial year

Oct. 23, 2013 @ 12:24 PM

In just a few days, Oct. 28 to be exact, Mary “May” Segal of Durham will be 100 years of age. Mrs. Segal has done and seen so much in her long and productive life, and it was my sincere pleasure to spend a few moments with her and daughter Eileen recently.
Mrs. Segal was born in 1913 in Newport News, Va. She and her family moved to Durham in 1919. After graduating from Durham High School, now the Durham School of the Arts, Mrs. Segal married Ben Segal and they were happily married for 45 years. Along with Eileen, they had another daughter, Jean. Ben and Eileen’s husband, Gus, ran the B and G Pipe Shop in the old Washington Duke Hotel in downtown Durham for many years, selling such various tobacco products, such as pipes and cigarettes. Ben passed away in 1994.
Mrs. Segal and her sister, Sara Wagner, owned and operated a retail store called Textile Sales in downtown Durham in the Five Points section. They sold bedspreads and custom draperies, among other items. Textile Sales was open for 35 years, from 1950 to 1985. This was a time when downtown Durham was busy with businesses, tobacco warehouses, restaurants and people, sort of like what is happening today with the revitalization that is going on. Mrs. Segal remembers how busy her sister and she were in their store, especially during holiday seasons when the sidewalks were just full of eager shoppers. Other fond and vivid remembrances are the years during World War II, when soldiers from nearby Camp Butner would flock to Durham on weekends to relax and spend some of their hard earned money.
Tobacco, of course, pretty much built Durham, and during these years that Mrs. Segal worked downtown, she even today recalls the pleasant smell of tobacco wafting out of the many tobacco warehouses and down the streets of Durham right into the shops and restaurants. When her friends would visit Durham, Mrs. Segal would often take them on tours of tobacco warehouses where each person would receive a pack of cigarettes after completing the tour of the cavernous warehouses that had more footage than football fields.
Along with owning and operating Textile Sales for 35 years, Mrs. Segal worked at Woolworth’s and at Ellis Stone Department Store in Durham. Also, she was a Pink Lady. Now you probably have to have a little age on you to know what a Pink Lady was. They were the pretty ladies who worked at Duke Hospital in the ’40s and ’50s who wore pink smocks and served coffee and candy and other refreshments in the lobby to people as they waited while visiting the hospital.
As she is about to become a centenarian, Mrs. Segal does not sit around and watch the days go by. She has worked out at the Duke Center For Living for many years now, and still goes there on a regular basis each week. She loves to exercise, doing water aerobics and walking the track. “I do a lot of talking at the Duke Center For Living too,” Mrs. Segal told me. The staff is very friendly and helpful, it is sort of like a social club, she added.
Her daughter, Eileen, added, “The employees at the Center For Living don’t run from [my] mother, they run to her.”  In fact, there is no telling what you may see this vibrant lady doing. Eileen had a good laugh when she told me of Mrs. Segal, in her 70s, was walking around the track at Wallace Wade Stadium one day when she saw some hurdles and decided to use them as something to step over to add intensity to her workout.
Mrs. Segal does not eat greasy or fried food at all and has had no meat since she was 10 years old. She eats a lot of fruits, vegetables, and grains. She enjoys two cups of coffee per day and one can of Diet Coke per day, and does not eat anything at all after 7 at night, except maybe a little water or a few sips of tea. One treat is Texas Pete Sauce, which she really loves and uses a little on quite a bit of the food she eats.
When asked for advice, Mrs. Segal said, “It may be that I really just seem to like everybody. I really do. I try to find the good which is in all of us. People should really try to live healthy, be careful what you do, and overlook a lot. What is happening right now in life is most important.”  Eileen added, “I really don’t think mother has one enemy in this world; she gets along with everyone, it seems.”
These days, Mrs. Segal stays very busy. She enjoys knitting and she “runs around Durham with Eileen doing errands, such as grocery shopping. I still push the cart down the aisles.” Four grandkids and seven great grandkids also keep her busy.  Mrs. Segal flies to Massachusetts every few months to visit family and recently went to Florida. Six years ago, at the age of 93, she was “running” down the steps from the second floor of her house when she fell and broke her hip. A doctor told her at the time that she would not walk again, but she did not take that prognosis to heart, to say the least.
Durham is so very lucky to have a lady like May Segal. Perhaps after reading this column, or certainly if you ever have the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Segal, you will feel your heart warm over. As Eileen told me, “People tell Mother all the time, ‘I just want to take you home with me.’”
Lewis Bowling  teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is www.lewisbowling.com. He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at Lewis_Bowling@yahoo.com.