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Still Working at 98 Years

June 14, 2017

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His Children are Retired.
He Drives to Work Every Day.

 

There are times when I can’t believe what I’m reading. I recently received a copy of Columbia’s Spring 2017 magazine (no one will ever accuse this school of not paying attention to their grads: I get emails + phone calls + snail mail on a regular basis) and I read and listen to all of it. Aquarians are very loyal.

Columbia University, located in New York City, was founded in 1754 as King’s College. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States

As I slowly leafed through this publication, I came across an article that was mind-blowing. It’s titled The Constant Chronicler and written by Ian Scheffler, a 2012 Columbia grad. It starts with this explanatory paragraph:

At 98, David Perlman 1939 Columbia, 1940 School of Journalism, is a pioneer of Science Journalism, and may just be the oldest working reporter in America.

David Perlman, 98, working hard at his computer

Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Spring 2017 magazine

I stopped paging through and said to myself, “This is a great story” and proceeded to read the whole article.

He has been employed at the San Francisco Chronicle newspaper since 1940, starting as a copy boy and moving on to the science beat in the late 1950s, at the dawn of the space race. Over time, he has filed stories on the advent of nuclear power and the earliest warnings of climate change. In 2016, he published 50 articles that included everything from coral reefs to the search for extraterrestrial life.

The San Francisco Chronicle building at 901 Mission Street – the paper was founded in 1865

“I’ll keep working till I drop dead at my desk,” Perlman once told The New York Times.

HOW DOES HE GET TO WORK?

The Chronicle has been at the same spot since 1924. Perlman drives there every day and arrives promptly at 9:30 am. How many people this age even have a valid driver’s license? Two years ago, he bought a new Mazda compact and reports that, “It goes like a bat out of hell.” I love this comment.

HOW DID IT ALL START FOR HIM?

After Columbia he went to Bismarck, North Dakota, to join a local newspaper. This was quite a change from growing up and going to school in hyperactive Manhattan. “I did not cotton to that bucolic life,” he says. He learned that some of his journalism classmates worked in San Francisco so he sent them a telegram and said, “Get me out of here.” They did.

Except for a brief time at the Herald Tribune in Paris, his entire career has been at the Chronicle. Erica Goode, a science writer and editor at The New York Times says, “He basically looks the same now as he did when I first met him.” She credits his youthful mien to his curiosity and enthusiasm.

WHY DID HE CHOOSE THIS CAREER?

In the 1950s, he broke his leg while skiing and, while he was laid up in the hospital, a friend brought him a book about astronomy called The Nature of the Universe. He had no interest in this subject, but he was tired of reading detective stories, so he gave it a shot. This peaked his decision to look into science journalism where he says, “My goal has always been about making the complex simple.”

HOW IS HIS PERSONAL LIFE AT 98-YEARS-OLD?

In 2002, Perlman lost his wife of more than 60 years. He has three children, two of whom are retired. He also has a dinner date. “I don’t know what the term is these days,” Perlman says. “I have a very close friend.”

He doesn’t have a scientific explanation for his longevity and productivity and attributes his staying power mostly to luck. What he DOES DO is stay engaged. A great story if there ever was one.

Shaun Nelson-HenrickSaveSaveSaveSave


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