Fancy-free at 103
40-year Westside resident Kathleen Burt drove a buggy, studied law, overcame tuberculosis, led volunteer efforts in WWII
Other than cloudy eyesight and her arthritis acting up now and then, Kathleen Crayton Burt feels fine. Not bad for 103 years
The 40-year Westside resident did have a problem with tuberculosis starting in her late 20s, but “I've recovered, as you can see,” Mrs. Burt observed with her merry smile.
That disease is one of the few drawbacks - worried doctors would not let her have more than one child because of it - in a life that started May 29, 1902, in Poplar Bluff, Mo., near the Arkansas line.
Growing up in the small Illinois town of Banville, young Kathleen came from a law-abiding family, in which her father was a lawyer (for a time district attorney) and her grandfather the sheriff. One of her big thrills as a girl was being allowed to drive the single-horse buggy when her father paid calls on clients. “I got to know everyone in the county,” she recalled.
Later, she studied law at Illinois Wesleyan University, applying some of her learning while assisting in her father's law office.
In 1925, she married Fred Jackson Burt, an MIT graduate, and her world began to expand. Mr. Burt's job required him to go to Colorado at times. She still remembers staying at the Teller House in Central City. “There were outside toilets, and at 6 a.m., someone came and built a fire in your stove,” she said. Outside, she recalled, “the roads weren't paved at all.”
Her tuberculosis, which lingered for about eight years, struck when the Burts were living in Buffalo, N.Y. To fight the disease, on doctors' recommendations, they moved to a warmer climate (Pass Christian, Miss.) for nearly three years. “I liked it there,” Mrs. Burt said. “It was right on the gulf, and we had a sailboat.” She added that she was sorry to have learned that Pass Christian was hit badly last summer by Hurricane Katrina.
In about 1935, the Burts moved to the Park Ridge suburb of Chicago, remaining there until relocating to Colorado in 1962. Mr. Burt chiefly worked as a sales representative. Mrs. Burt stayed “fairly active,” she said, particularly in World War II, when she had a leadership role in war relief efforts. “I was so busy in those days,” she recalled.
Also during the Chicago years, she had her one child, Betty. Mom and daughter are still close - Betty and her husband, Chuck Baker, live with Mrs. Burt in the same home off Mesa Road that Mr. and Mrs. Burt bought in 1966.
“Peculiar” is how Mrs. Burt describes the acquisition of that house. After initially moving from Chicago to Boulder, the Burts decided to live in Colorado Springs, which was geographically better suited for the customers in the sales business Mr. Burt had started. Around that time, they met someone in the opposite situation (a Springs resident looking for a home in Boulder). “So we just traded houses,” Mrs. Burt said.
Mr. Burt continued running his business until his death in 1984.
Mrs. Burt has stayed on… and on and on. She has no wish to move again. “This is one of the nicest neighborhoods I've ever lived in,” she said. “Everybody is so friendly. I guess I'm going to be here until I die.”
On a typical day, Mrs. Burt might take a walk in the neighborhood - although the arthritis-imposed need for a walker in the past two years has curtailed that activity a bit - and read a book. She prefers audio books because of her eyes (a condition called macular degeneration that she's had for 30 years).
She has no easy explanation for her longevity. Her mother lived to the age of 90, but her father died at 63 and both her younger sisters have also passed on. “I don't know how I got these genes,” she said. “I guess it's because I'm too contrary.”
Clean living may have contributed to her health. She was given a glass of hard liquor, back in the bootleg days, and wound up falling flat. “I only have an occasional glass of sherry now,” she said. And one cigarette was enough to convince her that smoking wasn't for her, either. She's also glad, because of the smell that second-hand smoke used to put into her clothes, that the habit is much less prevalent than it used to be.
All in all, Mrs. Burt is enjoying a life that's extended well past the century mark. A recent recurrence of tuberculosis was easily handled. “They have better drugs these days,” she noted. Nor does the medical world seem overly worried about her future prospects. “My cardiologist says I'm the best advertisement he has,” Mrs. Burt chuckled.
Westside Pioneer article