Age is indeed just a number to Maryan Surman, who at 91 has finally decided to retire — or at least settle into what she calls “quasi-retirement.”
“I keep moving, trying to learn new things, keep active and keep involved. I like to be aware of what’s going on in the world,” Surman said. “I was born hyperactive, and I will die hyperactive!”
Surman, a resident of the Beacon House senior living community in Beacon Hill since 2005, has had a varied and fruitful career. Forced to drop out of school at 16 in order to support her family through the Great Depression, Surman said she knows the value of stability and frugality.
And, one of her passions, Social Security, grew out of those trying times. Surman, who was born in Boston and has lived in several nearby towns, said she wants to raise awareness for young people who may not be fully knowledgeable about the Social Security system.
“I’m basically responding to the situation at the moment in terms of the elections,” Surman said. “Someone asked me if I could do a little essay on the subject, and I said ‘I’m 91. I’m walking history. I lived through all of it and I understand a lot of it.’ Being a living historian, I am trying to convince young people not be taken in by what they hear in the media. I want [them] to do their own homework.”
In a recent essay, Surman delves into the roots of Social Security. She will make her television debut Oct. 23 on Boston Neighborhood Network where she will showcase her extensive knowledge on Social Security.
Social Security crusader is only her most recent job. A registered midwife and nurse since the 1950s, Surman’s medical employment is both extensive and exhaustive. She started her career as U.S. Army nurse in World War II for two years, taking care of soldiers who fought in the Pacific and Europe.
A 1955 graduate of Boston City Hospital’s nursing program, Surman went to school as an older student at age 30, but that did not deter her. “Most of my classmates went straight out of high school. I was 30 and they were 18, but I looked very young so nobody really knew [about the age difference] until we graduated that I was the old lady in the class!”
Surman also holds a master’s degree in maternal child health from Boston College.
Education is an important part of Surman’s life and even after retiring she still takes classes at Suffolk University.
“She’s one of our older residents, but she is very active and sharp for her age,” said Margarita Rosa, the property manager at Beacon House. “She is still going to college at Suffolk and taking courses. She is such a positive person.”
Before leaving the nursing profession in 1984, Surman was a volunteer with Project Hope in the 1970s, doing work in Africa. Afterwards, she became a freelance writer for a free New Hampshire daily newspaper called Northern Lights. After that, she volunteered for the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) during the 1990s, going door to door to raise awareness of the organization.
Surman, the oldest surviving person in her family, has never married and most of her close family has passed away. However, she has made a new family out of her neighbors and friends at the Beacon House.
“She’s full of vigor,” said Joyce Harkness, administrative assistant at Beacon House. “She’s always active, and if I have to describe her in one word I would use ‘amazing.’ She’s a pleasure to be around and she’s always using her mind. Maryan is a good example of a senior citizen still involved in life.”
Bob Goodwin, a fellow resident at the home, agreed and said Surman is the most popular person in the building.
“She has more energy than anyone in the place,” Goodwin said. “She won’t let anyone help her when she’s walking up the hills [in the neighborhood]. She is a super cook and she’s always cooking for people. She never forgets anyone.”
Surman remembered a mantra she grew up with: “Idle hands are the playthings of the devil. Do something useful!”
This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and the Boston University News Service.