My new friend Marie Ryan is 90 years old and recently held a happy hour at a bar in Center City to celebrate her birthday.
And not just any bar, but trendy P.J. Clarke’s, a.k.a. the Cathedral of Saloons, inside the Curtis Center at Sixth and Walnut Streets. It was on a chilly, rainy Tuesday, but at least 50 people showed up.
Ryan presided over it in a white faux fur-trimmed sweater with burgundy rain boots that matched her Cartier handbag. When the seats on either side of her emptied, others took them.
It was a bar scene like many I’ve been to for my friends — but never for anyone who’s lived for nearly a century.
I was amazed.
Most of us won’t make 90. If we do hang on that long, we’ll be in a nursing home — and wearing hearing aids and leaning on walkers. And most of us won’t be holding happy hours in Center City. One in three seniors reports being lonely. But that’s not a problem for Ryan.
“I still date. I have a date next week,” she said of the 92-year-old she’s seeing.
Asked how she manages to find suitors, Ryan quipped, “I wait for their wives to die.”
See what I mean?
At a time in life when most seniors have slowed their lives to a crawl, Ryan’s life is moving full speed ahead, with her auditioning for acting roles and tweeting at President Donald Trump. A tweet she sent about turning 90 attracted nearly 800 likes.
The petite and spry mother of five has 60 movie credits to her name. Her next movie role will be a small part in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman, starring Robert DeNiro. Her acting resumé is three pages long and includes bit parts in films such as I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker, and TV shows such as The Sopranos and Law & Order.
The Ardmore resident got the acting bug after getting lessons as a gift for her 75th birthday. Most of her classmates were in their 20s. When the teacher asked the class members why they had signed up, Ryan responded, “I came here to meet guys.”
I don’t remember when we connected on social media, but I do remember the first time I saw her in person. It was late summer, and I was hosting a book signing for a friend aboard the Moshulu. I was running around, mingling and posing for photos, when I spotted Ryan sitting on a bar stool. I yelled out, “Marie, what are you doing here?”
She said, “You invited me to come, so I’m here.”
I didn’t get much time with her that night, but I remember thinking, “Who shows up at a party for folks nearly half her age like that?”
A Philly native, Ryan graduated from John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls’ High School at the top of her class in 1947. As a young woman, she lived briefly in Chicago doing magazine sales, but quit after discovering that her female colleagues went on “dates” to increase their sales. After returning home, she worked as a secretary before going on a blind date with Jack Duffin, who was in the printing business.
“It took me a week to fall in love with him,” Ryan told me over tea at Lacroix Restaurant in the Rittenhouse Hotel on Friday.
They married in 1956 and raised their family in Mayfair. Theirs was a happy marriage. After their youngest was a senior in high school, she went to work for the IRS. At 60, she opened a business helping people with their taxes.
Before his death in 2006, she told her husband, “Jack, you’re going to miss a hell of a party.”
She wasn’t lying. Ryan’s life is a party and she’s at the center of it.