Lily Hearst, an 'icon' as oldest Berkeley resident, dies at 107
By Kristin Bender, STAFF WRITER
BERKELEY — She snow skied at 86, swam daily into her 90s, taught classical music at the senior center and rode in a parade car as Berkeley's oldest citizen starting at age 104.
Lily Hearst, Berkeley's oldest resident, died in her sleep at her Berkeley cottage Wednesday morning. She was 107.
Those who knew Ms. Hearst don't know why she lived so long. She didn't smoke or drink caffeine, cut out red meat in old age and rarely took a drink.
But it was more likely her feisty spirit, opinionated mind and unwavering sense of humor that stoked her long life, family and friends said.
In the fall, as she had done for the last two years, Ms. Hearst rode in a parade car in the "How Berkeley Can You Be Parade,"
an eclectic event that includes naked people and highlights Berkeley's general weirdness.
But this year, the parade had an "alternative transportation" theme, and Ms. Hearst had to play along.
"Instead of getting to ride in a nice, big convertible, she was in this itty-bitty electric car," recalled longtime friend Karen Elliott. "She didn't really understand why she was in this little car and said, 'I'm not sure I'm going to do this again.'"
That was Ms. Hearst — speaking her mind while living life to the fullest, friends said.
She lived in a cottage on her son's NorthOldest Berkeley resident dies
Berkeley property but spent much of her time at the opera, playing piano and giving impromptu lessons at the
North Berkeley Senior Center.
"We were a big part of her life. She came here five days a week," center Director Suzanne Ryan said. "She was like a little icon, a role model that people aspired to be. She looked good, she maintained her weight, and she was playing classical music to the end."
Born in Oswiciem, Austria, on May 31, 1897, she lived the first third of her life in Vienna. In 1938 she immigrated to the United States six months after Adolph Hitler's annexation of Austria into the German Reich.
As a young woman, she was an avid piano student and snow skier who, with her sister, defied convention by wearing ski pants instead of the common ski skirt on the slopes, said her son, John Hearst, a professor emeritus
in the chemistry department at UC Berkeley.
It was on a ski train that Ms. Hearst met her future husband, Alphonse Bernard Hirsch, a skilled mountaineer and skier who later changed the family name to Hearst.
Because Alphonse was hesitant about marriage at age 38, the two went to see pioneering psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich for some guidance. The doctor gave the bachelor some words of wisdom.
"He said, 'You'll never find anyone more appropriate than Lily,'" John Hearst said.
As a married woman, Ms. Hearst studied piano at the Music Academy of Vienna and had two children, Helga Louise in 1931 and Hans (John) Eugen in 1935.
In 1970, the couple moved to Berkeley to be close their son and his family. When Alphonse
Hearst died in 1978, Ms. Hearst became an active member of the Berkeley Hiking Club and a swimmer at the Berkeley City Club. She also began attending the North Berkeley Senior Center several times a week.
"She got up at 6:30 a.m. and played an hour before breakfast — Mozart, Chopin, Bach," Elliott said.
She also attended weekly noon concerts at Hertz Hall on the Berkeley campus and the San Francisco Opera.
She told family and friends that she lived so long because she developed strength early in life as a mountain climber and skier and avoided alcohol and coffee. But keeping her mind and body active was also key, her son said.
"I think what really made the last third of her life was the Berkeley community,
going to the senior center, the hiking club, and giving the piano lessons. She became an icon for people who wanted to live to be older and older," he said.
She is survived by her daugh-
ter, Helga Shareshian, of New Jersey; her son, John Hearst of Berkeley; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Donations in memory of Ms. Hearst can be made to the North Berkeley Senior Center, 1901 Hearst Ave., Berkeley, 94709 or to any charity.