‘She Pivots’ with Betty Reid Soskin: Starting a New Career at 85
At 100 years old, Reid Soskin is the oldest U.S. Park Ranger in history and was instrumental in uncovering the untold stories of African-Americans and their contributions on the Home Front during WWII. Soskin lives every day looking for that next adventure, saying, “I'm still wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up.”
Welcome to “She Pivots,” the podcast in partnership with Marie Claire about women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success.
Betty Reid Soskin is a mother, music lover, and activist. At 100 years old—she'll turn 101 in September—she is also the oldest U.S. Park Ranger in history. It’s a career she embarked on later in life. In fact, she sees her current self as an entirely different person from the woman she was in her twenties.
Betty was born September 22, 1921. In 1942, at the age of 20, she married her first husband, Mel Reid, with whom she had four children. The two opened one of the first Black-owned record stores in California, later getting divorced.
Two decades later, Reid Soskin had a second marriage that also ended in divorce. “I didn't know how to be alone. I only knew who I was in relation to someone else,” she said. Though neither marriage worked out, Reid Soskin remained close friends with both Mel and William Soskin, her second husband.
Then, at 55, Reid Soskin experienced major loss after the death of her two ex-husbands and father within the time span of just three months. It wasn’t until then that she felt truly free to be her own version of Betty.
“I don't remember anything except that in 1987, all the men in my life died at one time,” she recalled. “I didn't know who I was for another three months. I couldn't imagine being without them. But… at the end of [the] three months, I suddenly discovered that I was no longer Betty Reid or Betty Charbone, or Betty Soskin, but Betty. And I've been spinning off that Betty ever since.”
In 2000, as a field representative for State Assemblywoman Dion Aroner, Reid Soskin attended a meeting on the creation of the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park. Reid Soskin eventually left her job in 2003 to consult on the development of the park and its education center. Her contributions to the historical records are priceless. Through storytelling and oral history, she helped contextualize the history of WWII by offering firsthand accounts of the stories of Black men and women at a time of great opportunity and even greater loss for the country. By stepping into this role, Reid Soskin shaped the history being shared at the park into a more accurate representation.
“I was the only one who was in the room for several years who was willing to speak out,” said Reid Soskin. “I didn't know I was the only one at the time. Now I look back and I see that there were people who were living on my words.”
In 2007, she earned a spot as a National Park Service Officer at the age of 85. Now, 15 years later, her legacy continues, and her storytelling has even garnered the recognition of President Barack Obama and others.
Now, nearing 101, Reid Soskin continues to live her life looking for that next new adventure, saying, “I'm still wondering what I'm going to be when I grow up.”
Emily Tisch Sussman sits down with women weekly on She Pivots to learn about how their personal journeys led to their pivot. Listen to the full conversation on She Pivots, wherever you get your podcasts. Subscribe, leave us a rating and follow us at @ShePivotsThePodcast!
Emily Tisch Sussman is the Founder and Host of “She Pivots,” the podcast in partnership with Marie Claire about women, their stories, and how their pivot became their success. She is a contributing editor to Maire Claire and the guest host of the Marie Claire Instagram Live series “Getting Down to Business.”
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