Sunday, June 17, 2018
News Roundup

Epilogue: Centenarian worked as Eleanor Roosevelt's secretary

ST. PETERSBURG — From her birth in rural Canada to retirement homes in the Tampa Bay area, Vieno Pope moved at least 20 times.

In a century of life, she never stopped learning.

The daughter of Finnish immigrants learned English in elementary school in Duluth, Minn., and by high school in Newfield, N.Y., had read most of Charles Dickens' novels while waiting for her father, a carpenter, to pick her up from school.

She would raise a family, earn a master's degree at age 60 and weave friendships in retirement homes the way she spun Scandinavian rugs on her loom. Her family believes Mrs. Pope possessed sisu, a Finnish term reflecting endurance, resilience and bravery.

Mrs. Pope died Jan. 4 in Regal Palms, an assisted living center within the Palms of Largo. She was 100.

She was born Vieno Pertula in an Ontario city called Fort William (now Thunder Bay). Her earliest memory struck her at around age 3, at a family picnic in Canada.

"I was standing on a hill, looking down at the people, and the thought occurred to me that I was a person," she wrote in a letter to a granddaughter in 1995. "… It was a revelation, apparently, and it made me feel joyful."

A high school graduate at 15, she won a scholarship to Cornell University. She served for several months as the personal secretary to a visiting Eleanor Roosevelt, whose husband, Franklin, was then-governor of New York.

She later declined Mrs. Roosevelt's offer to work in the White House in order to marry researcher Seth Pope, who was studying fungi at Cornell.

Their family lived in several states — including New Jersey, where Mrs. Pope earned a master's degree in 1973 at what is now William Paterson University in psycholinguistics.

Mrs. Pope exuded gratitude for all those whom she was close to, including animals, her family said. In retirement in Roswell, N.M., she adopted an incorrigible terrier mix.

She named the dog Chipper and slept outside with it, its leash around her wrist, until it could live inside.

Though she outlived her husband by 20 years and all her friends, Mrs. Pope remained engaged, reading mysteries, biographies and the Wall Street Journal in a burgundy leather chair while sipping black coffee.

She also walked daily and served on several committees. Friends and family threw her a birthday party in April. She cut a cake embedded with the Finnish flag and the numerals 1-0-0.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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