Longtime Oak Bluffs resident Gladys Segal celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday with a family gathering at her Beach Road home. She was born Gladys Kurasch in 1922 in North Plainfield, N.J., and Segal’s father was a grocer, her mother a homemaker.
“We didn’t have much money from the grocery store, but we managed,” Segal said. The lack of money wasn’t something that bothered her. “It didn’t bother me because everybody else was poor. My father used to, when we needed soles on our shoes, put our feet on cardboard and cut it out and put it inside the shoe. And those were our new shoes.”
Segal graduated high school in 1940, and she and her friends loved a particular voice on the radio.
“We loved Frank Sinatra,” she said. “We used to go to hear him in concerts, and we would yell, ‘Run for president!’ That was the teenager in us.”
She also loved Benny Goodman, but Sinatra was king in her book.
During World War II, Segal began working in Washington, D.C. Her jobs included being a senatorial copywriter and working at the Library of Congress. She eventually landed a job at the National Farmers Union in Denver, Colo. She later worked for that organization back in Washington.
“I got married in 1947,” she said. “I was an old maid. In those days, everybody got married young.”
She met the love of her life, Stanley Segal, by chance on a road trip. “My older brother was driving to Boston,” she said. “He was in Washington, and he asked me if I wanted to go, and I said sure. So I took a ride and then we got to Boston. There was a strike at the hotel and my brother, who had polio, walked on crutches, so he couldn’t carry any luggage. So they called the office that he was going to visit, and they sent the lowly lawyers down to carry all the luggage, and that’s how I met him — he carried my luggage,” she said. “He had no choice.”
The spark took almost immediately. “Well, we got married soon after that,” she said. “He transferred to Washington and we met again. We had a good marriage, I must say.”
Her husband eventually went to work for the Justice Department recovering art stolen by the Nazis: “He enjoyed it.”
When he was waiting for his initial security clearance to come through, she said, he would go over to the House of Representatives and listen to the hearings on the Hollywood 10, the motion picture writers and producers called before the House Un-American Activities Committee for alleged ties to communism who were found in contempt of Congress and blacklisted.
Once a friend asked her if she could get her daughter a job on Capitol Hill. Segal said she was a member of the National Press Club at the time, and decided to take her friend’s daughter to the National Press Club to suss her out a bit.
“Well, in the lobby, there’s a big picture of Vice President Truman playing the piano, and Lauren Bacall is sitting very sexually on top of the piano,” Segal said. ”It must have been for a fundraiser for the veterans or something. So when we sat down for lunch, I said to her, ‘What did you think of the picture?’ And she looked at me and said, ‘Who’s Lauren Bacall?’”
Segal said she didn’t go to FDR’s state funeral, but a lot of her friends did. She did go to Truman’s Inauguration.
“People would come and go,” she said. “There were no police around. There was nobody saying you can come in, you can’t come in. And the place is flowing with people. Truman is walking around. It’s a different world [now].”
Truman shook her hand, she said, but didn’t know who she was. Segal described feeling “OK” about Truman as a president, “but when we dropped the bomb, I wasn’t that happy.”
Segal eventually went to work for a special information service that researched the right wing called Group Research Inc., which was founded by former journalist Wesley McCune.
Segal described the Capitol Hill office of Group Research as small and packed with index cards and periodicals.
“We read a lot,’ she said. “We read newspapers; we read magazines; we talked to people. A lot of reporters would come over looking for something, and give us information. It was interesting. I still read four newspapers a day. I’m so used to it.”
She described the research atmosphere as often like a “circus.”
“We were the first ones who were called on the telephone when Watergate broke,” she said. “It’s different today. In those days they didn’t have all of the electronic stuff that they have today.”
One of the few people she recalled from her Group Research days who is still alive is Roger Stone.
“I used to go to some of the right-wing meetings. And you know, I used to see him and everybody is shaking hands and nobody knows who anybody is. And so I didn’t know him … in those days he was younger, but he was a real right-winger … all the Watergate people are gone.”
In that era she recalled Stone as being smart and a “baddie.”
All sorts of people used to tap Group Research’s services, including senators and congressmen, even members of the Capitol Steps. Often the inquiries were routed through the Library of Congress. “We even had the FBI call us twice,” she said.
Once, she said, Norman Lear came by seeking information. “He turned to me and he said, ‘Would you make a copy of this?’” she said. “I said, ‘Well, I’ll have to have it made and mail it to you.’”
“‘Don’t you have a copy machine?’” Lear asked. “I said no. We don’t have any money. He puts his hand in his pocket, he takes out a checkbook, he pulls out a check, he signs it — with nothing else on it but his signature. And he says, Go buy yourself a copy machine.”
Segal said she has difficulty sorting out the Republican Party today, which she said doesn’t resemble the party she was previously familiar with. “I really think they’re in tatters,” she said. “I really think, I might be wrong, that Trump is on the way out. I think there’s some good Republicans, I really do.”
“[Liz] Cheney is a good Republican,” she said. “She’s getting a lot of flak. Who knows what will happen?” Segal lamented the state of the nation and the world: “I just feel sorry for the young ones.”
Of Ukraine she said, “I don’t really know if we know what’s going on.”
Segal said she hasn’t been back to Washington in about 40 years, but can easily remember during her time there she found the Capitol a minotaur’s maze.
“If I had to go there to pick up something, or to get something, I could get lost,” she said. “There were so many doorways and so many halls. And I think of the insurrection. It was the same place, but they knew where they were going. I didn’t.”
Segal’s connection to the Vineyard came by accident, an invitation after she and her husband gave somebody a ride to New England. “I never heard of the Vineyard, and neither had my husband,” Segal said. “So we got on the boat and we went over and fell in love with it — that had to be in the late ’40s, early ’50s.”
The couple swallowed the hook, and wound up renting for years on Beach Road in Oak Bluffs.
They didn’t buy a house on that road until 1980, she said. She joked that it had been a funeral parlor, but is nonetheless a “great” house.
“I had a lot of friends, most of whom are gone,” she said. Segal’s husband passed away in 2010.
“We used to bike a lot,” she said. “In those days it was not dangerous. You could bike all over the Island.”
Famous folks were not an uncommon sight on the Vineyard, Segal said. “You know, in those days you could walk down Main Street in Vineyard Haven and Jackie Kennedy would be walking down the street or Lillian Hellman. It was just that everybody was happy to be there and nobody bothered them.”
Segal also said you could walk in the street without fear of being hit by a car. Segal recalled the filming of “Jaws” on the Vineyard. “Yes, that was exciting,” she said. “Especially Lee Fierro, who was in the movie, we’d watch her.”
Segal said she rented her house to Fierro a few times. “They used to haul the ‘Jaws’ [“Bruce”] out of the water and bring it over behind the liquor store” [Our Market].
When asked what she thought of “Jaws,” Segal said, “You know what, I never went to see it.”
She said she wasn’t inclined to see sad things happen to people. However, she said she might catch the film at some point: “Maybe someday when I have nothing to do, I’ll see it.”
To celebrate her birthday on Sunday, Segal enjoyed cake and revelry with family, including her daughter Lesley, her granddaughter Naomi, and her great-grandson Katsumasa, who with her granddaughter had flown in from Japan for a surprise visit.
“I used to tell my daughter you should learn something new every day,” Segal said. “One thing. So as you get older you’ll have some knowledge. And so what did I learn yesterday reading about the Ukraine? I read that Zelensky was Jewish. I didn’t know that. So I learn something every day. I consider myself very Jewish, but I’m not a templegoer … But I certainly support the Jewish people and the temple [Hebrew Center] here.”
Two things Segal loves to do are read and eat ice cream. Her reading regimen includes four newspapers a day.
“I read the Post, the Times, Politico — although Politico is now owned by a German outfit, and Huffington Post. And once in a while I’ll read the Daily Beast. But that gets to be like the National Enquirer after a while. I read all day because that’s what I do … Once in a while I’ll read the Guardian.”
Segal said she also enjoys reading The MV Times, and loves to read books. She gave high marks to Erik Larson’s “The Splendid and the Vile.”
A big regret of hers is that she didn’t learn more about her ancestry, which she said “really really bothers” her.
“When I was growing up,” she said, “we never, ever asked our parents about their background. It just wasn’t done.”
Segal is curious if she might receive a White House letter. “When I was growing up when somebody aged to 100, they would get a letter from the President saying congratulations,” she said. “I don’t know if they still do it. But if they do, I’m grateful that my letter will come from President Biden and not the other president.”