When I was in my twenties, one of my favorite books was, “Meetings with Remarkable Men” by George Gurdjieff. Recently, I had my meeting with two remarkable women, Deborah Szekely and Vivian Blackstone.
Szkeley just celebrated her 94th birthday and Blackstone will be 88 this summer. When I remarked that I thought they were both fearless women, Szekely, a feisty, but kind woman, protested firmly saying, “I am not fearless! I consider myself to be a cautious woman instead”. She said that she was not afraid to take risks and not afraid of failure, but she planned everything carefully.
Perhaps Szekely may be a cautious woman, but in my book, it takes a certain amount of imagination and strength to accomplish all that she has, starting with opening the spa, Rancho La Puerta [the ranch] at the age of 18 in 1940 in Tecate, Mexico, across the border from San Diego. Today, Rancho La Puerta is a world famous spa, celebrated as being one of the best in the world. She later opened another well known spa, the Golden Door, in Escondido, Ca in1958. She sold the Golden Door many years later.
As to Blackstone, who has always had a different, creative life, not being afraid is second nature. For her 60th birthday, she hung out of a helicopter to take pictures. About 8 years ago, when she was 80, we got lost together in the countryside outside of Tecate. We had gone together to look for a shaman/ healer who lived in a remote area. I was driving as we bumped along a lonely, dirt road. Vivian kept on saying, ““We’ll find him”, and eventually we did. We spent an unforgettable afternoon withTata Kachora as he is known.
This is only one of the many adventures Blackstone has experienced in her unusual life, and one of the many adventures that I shared with her. She always remained cool as a cucumber, no matter what situation or country we were in.
Both women are not afraid to go out of their comfort zone, as well as actively seek new horizons. I think these two women embody a special strength which keeps them going. As retired psychologist Michael Mantell says, “The power of positive, fearless thoughts, predicting positivity, along with trust and faith in our abilities, heals, energizes and helps us enjoy life to the fullest as we age.”
Blackstone and Szekely have been friends for over 50 years. When asked about the longevity of their friendship, they mentioned loyalty being key.
Giving back to the communities on both sides of the border has also been an important part of Szekely’s life. As Szkeley confided, “When I see a need, I like to take on the challenge to do what I can to remedy it”.
When asked about some projects she was proud of, Szekely remembered how in the early years of the ranch, she began a program to get bicycles for the region’s school children and employees at the ranch, so they would have an easier time getting around.
She also spoke of the school she started for deaf mute children in Tecate. She had a woman who worked for her who had a deaf baby and that inspired Szekely to help others as there were no schools at that time to fill the need. She brought in Dr. Frederick Frye, who was working at Mercy Hospital at the time, to evaluate the children.
There was a bowl in the lobby at the ranch to collect money for batteries to go along with the hearing aids that Dr. Frye helped her obtain for the children. As Blackstone later emailed me, “Deborah was the ‘Big Mother”…she took care of her workers, like her children, and she spent hours helping them.”
The original school was housed in an old trailer on the ranch and as word spread, children came from all over Tecate. When the school outgrew the trailer, the Mexican government stepped up and took over the school.
In her later years, she related that she felt it was important for the people of San Diego to recognize what so many immigrants have brought to San Diego. This motivated her to spearhead the New Americans Museum at Liberty Station. This museum celebrates newly arrived immigrants, the many rich cultures, and all they have to contribute to San Diego which has become such a melting pot.
These two long time friends also shared an important person in both of their lives. Edmond Szekely, Deborah’s husband, and the co-founder of Rancho La Puerta, was an unusual and brilliant man with many followers. Known as the professor, Blackstone was a disciple of his and spent many years studying with him.
In 2010, Blackstone felt the need to honor the legacy of the professor. A long time artist, photographer, and filmmaker, it took her six sometimes challenging years, but in 2016, she finally completed her film, and her way of keeping the memory of the professor and his teachings alive. The film is now for sale on Blackstone’s website:
In the film, Szekely’s daughter, Sarah Livia, makes a memorable appearance, speaking so lovingly of her father. Sarah Livia now runs Rancho La Puerta, carrying on and adding to what her parents began.
Finally, when asked what they have done to thrive as long as they have, living active and independent lives, Szekely mentioned that she came from good stock with good genes. They both spoke about the importance of eating well. Szekely was a personal friend of one of the original health gurus, Gaylord Hauser, and Blackstone was friends with another stalwart in the health food movement, Adele Davis.
They also remain active. Blackstone wakes up early and walks her two enthusiastic Boston terriers; whereas, Szekely walks her older King Charles spaniel. Szekely spoke of her pilates and yoga classes. They are both animal lovers and have always had dogs and cats.
These two loyal friends are truly an inspiration to others. Szekely is already planning her 95th birthday with a special trip to Japan, and Blackstone wants to go to Hungary and perhaps Transylvania where the professor was born.
Remarkable women indeed!