We had an inspiring conversation about Dorothy’s secrets and advice for a happy, long-lasting, and fulfilling life. We discuss the central role of nurturing relationships, the importance of focusing on the positives, whether from those around us or the everyday events, and being mindful about our nutrition and exercises routines. Dorothy also shared valuable insights on marriage, friendship, and business.
Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to all of our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is Steve Shallenberger, your host. And I am sitting here in Satellite Beach, Melbourne, Florida, with a dear friend, Dorothy Russell. Dorothy happened to be a podcast guest on the Becoming Your Best podcast show about five years ago when she was 92. And we had such a great interview. She told us all about the things she had done. And I’m going to give you a little introduction. But here we are, and she is very close to 97 now and has blessed so many people. So, a little background. I met Dorothy 50 years ago when I was serving as a missionary in Uruguay and Paraguay. And I was fortunate that she and her husband, Gardner Russell, was my mission president and Dorothy was his, of course, companion and spouse. And they really hit it up all the missionary efforts, service efforts, and all those things in those countries. They had lived in Puerto Rico. Before that, Dorothy was raised in the Salt Lake City area. And they met when they both lived in San Francisco. And they have lived such a magnificent life. But we’ve been friends for all those years. Gardner served on the board of directors of one of our companies for the last 20 years of his life. He passed away a little older than 90 years old. And so here we have Dorothy. Dorothy in her own rights is a full part of that partnership. They moved to Florida 50 years ago, 45-40 years ago, somewhere in that range. And you took a little trip and lived in Mexico for a while and – oh, my goodness – you and Gardner have been around. But she had a desire to be in real estate. She’s been involved in one of the major political parties here actively throughout her life. And then she, some years ago, started investing in homes that she could rent out. And so she’s managed that business up until the last few years, and her son has recently volunteered to help run those. He has a commercial real estate management firm, so he’s just kind of tucked those homes into that portfolio. So, Dorothy, welcome to our show.
Dorothy Russell: Thank you. So fantastic having you here because it brings back so many memories.
Steve Shallenberger: I’ll say. We do have a lot of memories, don’t we?
Dorothy Russell: We have a lot of memories.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’ll tell you, I’m just so impressed with Dorothy. So, Dorothy, I have just a couple of questions that I think all of our listeners would be interested in. You just stepped away from managing your real estate properties not long ago, a year ago. So, what was it like deciding? Why did you manage those properties for so long? And how was it getting out? Tell us a little about that.
Dorothy Russell: Well, I got into real estate because I wanted to buy properties, and so I got a salesman’s license and a broker’s license and everything. And went actively in real estate, just to buy properties. But the year that I left real estate, I was the top listing and selling salesman in the company. So, I really got into it. But I really have enjoyed doing it, and it fulfilled a lot of my ambitions. Matter of fact, I kind of miss it now, but my son tells me that I’m too old to do that.
Steve Shallenberger: You did great.
Dorothy Russell: I don’t know why. I’m only 96.
Steve Shallenberger: So, you’re 96 and you turn 97 in April.
Dorothy Russell: In April, yes.
Steve Shallenberger: What’s the date? April 5th or what?
Dorothy Russell: April 4th.
Steve Shallenberger: April 4th, okay.
Dorothy Russell: So, that’s been fun. But, of course, the big part of our life was our mission, and you were just one of our missionaries. Amazingly, I’m still in contact with many of the missionaries, and I meet other mission presidents who have never heard from the missionaries after their mission, and I can’t understand.
Steve Shallenberger: It’s a little hard to understand. You taught us well in that area, I feel the same way. Well, relationships have always been important to you, haven’t they?
Dorothy Russell: Very much.
Steve Shallenberger: And you have been good in staying in touch. How do you find the best way to do that – stay in touch? You do it so well.
Dorothy Russell: One thing is, of course, telephoning and everything, but then we insisted that they form a missionary group to keep in touch with us. Yeah, so it’s been an exciting part of our life.
Steve Shallenberger: And to say that you stay in touch, that is the spirit. And I think a lot of the fulfillment and joy of life comes from having relationships, don’t you think?
Dorothy Russell: Very much so, yes. That is the basis of a good life, is your relationships. The rest of it – the money, and the work, and everything – are things that are part of life, but relationships is the core of your existence, really.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great advice. I do think I can tell you, as one of these missionaries — and you probably had over three years, 500 missionaries, give or take a little bit — and I know that Dorothy and Gardner both made a big effort to stay in touch. And that’s had a big impact on all of us because we’ve tried to do the same thing with our relationships. We have reunions. And during COVID, some of the missionaries stepped forward and they set up a Zoom reunion, so we’re still at it. But even if missionaries aren’t able to tap into that, they still know it and they still feel this connection. I can tell you that Dorothy, even right now, she reaches out. She’ll just call missionaries. I know that because I’ve talked to some of them. And just out of the blue, so, like, “Where does that come from?” But that is what Dorothy is just talking about. It’s really this whole fabric that brings such joy and satisfaction to life.
Dorothy Russell: Yes. And when you get to be 97 years old, you don’t have a lot of joy and satisfaction in life. So, the missionary part is very much a part of it. And to have a missionary here and talking to me like this, having lunch with me is something really, really exciting.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, I feel the same way. Let’s talk about a little bit of a different aspect. Let’s talk about longevity. I’m sure our listeners are all interested in longevity, and how do you do the best you can to maintain some type of quality of life. Give us your thoughts, first of all, on longevity. What are the things you can do to try to maximize that longevity and be healthy? I’d love to get your thoughts on it overall.
Dorothy Russell: Well, when Gardner was getting older, I worried about his health very much. So, I very much studied health and nutrition. And in the nutrition, one of the interesting things I found out is you don’t eat anything white: You don’t eat white bread; you don’t eat white potatoes; you don’t eat white rice. Any of these things are filling but not nutritious, and actually, they’re bad for your body. And so I cut up all those things to help him. So, of course, when I went on, I didn’t do any of those things. And I think that’s one of the reasons that I’m as healthy as I am at my age is because I was very, very careful with his nutrition to keep him healthy. So, yeah, I have very limited nutrition. As you know, I don’t eat meat, red meat, and all those things that are really not good for you. And not particularly for my health, but I just got used to it taking care of him. So, exercise – I still exercise at 96 years of age. And at home, I have a treadmill, and I use the treadmill every day regularly, and I think that that helps. Good nutrition and exercise, I think, is very important for good health. I don’t care about living that long. But as long as I’m living, I want to be healthy.
Steve Shallenberger: Now, I’ve got to say that Dorothy has been a huge motivation for me to keep exercising because I think, “Okay, if Dorothy Russell can get on that treadmill.” And how long do you go when you get on it?
Dorothy Russell: Well, I usually can’t do more than about half a mile. I always did at least a mile. But lately, it’s kind of half a mile.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I just think myself, “Okay, if she can do it, I can do it.” So, that’s a big motivation for me to exercise. On average, five times a week, I do different types. That’s been a big help for me. I just can’t imagine not doing it. So, exercise, maintaining exercise, regular exercise is really important, isn’t it?
Dorothy Russell: Yes. Diet and exercise.
Steve Shallenberger: What kind of things do you find are good to eat? What’s the good stuff we should be focusing on, from your point of view?
Dorothy Russell: Well, for me, I eat chicken, white meat chicken. Lots of vegetables and fruit.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s all good stuff. I think that all makes sense. So, what’s some advice, just life lessons that you would have for other people coming up along in life?
Dorothy Russell: Oh, I don’t know that I’m the kind of person to give a lot of advice. Just enjoy life, enjoy your associations. Love and appreciate your family. If they’re not perfect, overlook it, and think of the good things that you have with them, not the little things that bother you, because those can sometimes ruin your life, and life is to be enjoyed.
Steve Shallenberger: That’s great advice. Well, while we’re on the subject, in our previous podcast, you said that you had had a marriage early on, and were divorced, and then met Gardner. And you were married to Gardner for how long?
Dorothy Russell: We were married for 64 years.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, that’s not bad. You can cram all that in all those years. But see, that’s got to give a lot of hope to people that may have had a little challenge, a little blip in a marriage, and could come back. So, what are some of the things you would recommend people to have good marriages and a good relationship with their partner?
Dorothy Russell: Get married to a wonderful man like I did.
Steve Shallenberger: Gardner was a wonderful man, no doubt. Okay, that’s a good choice. First of all, choose the right person, if you can.
Dorothy Russell: And don’t let little things get to you that much and just enjoy it while you can.
Steve Shallenberger: And while you’re thinking about that, you may have more things that you want to share, like what can you do to make it go well. And I love your recommendation: choose the right person, marry a good man or marry a good woman right from the get-go. But I do remember something among our many, many experiences together. 50 years ago, I was serving in Posadas, Argentina, and Gardner and Dorothy came to visit. It’s a long way actually, it’s an eight-hour flight from Montevideo. By the time you make all the connections, you have to go through Buenos Aires, then you get up to Posadas. And they had just flown in and it had been a very long day. Dorothy, I know you won’t remember this because it’s one of those little things that happens that you don’t even give a second thought to. But in observing a young man, a 20-year-old man, or a 21-year-old who hopes to be married someday; he’s paying attention, like, how do people get along? And Gardner and Dorothy had a little moment where it was a little intense, something happened and you could tell that it was awkward. And they just looked at each other – I’ll never forget this comment: “Well, we’ve had a long day. Let’s just have a good rest and we can discuss this tomorrow.” And I thought, “Oh, man, now there is a lesson right there.” Just to recognize, it’s okay.
Dorothy Russell: Yeah. But don’t get into it right now.
Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, don’t get into it. And maybe tomorrow, it’s not even an issue, or if it is, we’re fresh.
Dorothy Russell: You have a new perspective.
Steve Shallenberger: What are some of the best things you’ve done with Gardner, as you look back?
Dorothy Russell: Unfortunately, at my age, my memory is very, very bad. So, even though I enjoyed so much with him, my memory is just not picking it up.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, I’ve got to tell you, being with Dorothy here, her memory actually is really sharp. But if I catch her off guard with a question like that, that’s not fair. Well, Dorothy, it is a treat that everybody could hear you today and that you could be with us. Any final thoughts that you would like to share with people listening today, before we wrap this up?
Dorothy Russell: Enjoy each day that you have because memories come of the wonderful things that you see each day and do each day. Not necessarily great, big things that just are fabulous, but it’s the everyday things that you do and enjoy. And being with people that you love, and sharing your thoughts and your feelings with them is very, very special. Like sharing them with Steve right now. This is very, very special. So, live each day. And if you have a bad day, just take some time to get over it, and then go on with your life. I really enjoy being with Steve.
Steve Shallenberger: Well, thank you. Same here, Dorothy. Well, it’s been such a treasure, such a delight being here with you today. So, this wraps up our Becoming Your Best podcast today. Wasn’t that really quite extraordinary? Gives us all the chance to just reflect and think and make the best of each day. We wish each one of you the very best today and always.
97 years of age, Served as Civic, Political, Business, and Social leader across several countries