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95-year-old economics alum: Enjoy your life

Date: 4/5/2016
Hortense Fiekowsky

Nestled in her Watergate apartment, Hortense Fiekowsky, 95, enjoys the beauty of sculptured art and a variety of paintings on her walls.

Fiekowsky was born in Pittsburgh but was raised in Detroit by Jewish Hungarian parents. She attended both Jewish and public schools for her early education.

After the sudden death of her father when she was a teenager, Fiekowsky felt compelled to live near her mother and applied to Wayne State University. She was accepted and started the next fall.

Eventually, her studies led her to economics, an intellectual and interesting challenge for an ever-independent woman. She says, “I wanted to work and be interested in my work.” But her ambition to remain a career-oriented woman shifted ever so slightly when she met Seymour Fiekowsky in a Wayne State economics class. “I noticed that Sy would get the highest mark on a test and I would get the second highest. I thought, ’I’ll pay a little more attention to him because maybe he is smart.’”

Seymour was the son of Hyman Fiekowsky, who owned Fox Creek Market, a specialty store that catered to personal chefs in and around Detroit. Seymour, a WWII veteran, was also studying economics at Wayne State and was enchanted by the future-Mrs. Fiekowsky, in whom he found a lifelong partner and friend.

As a newlywed, Hortense worked at Ford Motor Company in accounts before moving to Massachusetts so Seymour could complete his master's at Harvard. They moved to California soon after, where Seymour taught at Reed College. He then returned to Harvard to complete his Ph.D.

Seymour received an offer to work for Rockefeller in investments, and the family moved once again to Washington, D.C. He went on to serve as the chief of economics of the United States Department of Treasury's Office of Tax Analysis for more than 25 years.

By this time, the Fiekowsky family had grown to include three children: Lisa, Nicholas and Peter. Seymour traveled back and forth to New York for work and Hortense stayed home with the children. As they got older, she became interested in other responsibilities.


 
Seymour Fiekowsky

“I didn’t have to work,” she said. “But I didn’t want to sit around and play bridge either. I wanted an interesting life. So, I went to work for the labor department and traveled all over the world.”

Hortense worked for the United States Department of Labor at the Bureau of International Labor Affairs as a trade negotiator before becoming a diplomat, a position she held for more than 30 years.

Seymour retired early, while Hortense worked until her late 50s. After retirement, they both remained involved in political affairs and traveled for fun. Their story begins with Wayne State serving as a catalyst for this dynamic couple.

“I have enjoyed my life,” Hortense said. “I never thought I would be having so much fun at 95.”

Her advice to anyone is this: “Enjoy your life. Have a clean conscience; do what you want to do and usually it will turn out to be right. If it doesn’t, try something else. That’s the story.”