DAVIS ISLANDS — People say we should live each day as if it were our last. Ruthe Warshaw chose to live each day as if her life were just beginning.
She was getting close to 100 years old when she died, but Mrs. Warshaw never stopped learning and never stopped looking at every day as a potential adventure.
"The word everyone used was 'feisty,' " said her daughter, former Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman. "She was a small woman, but she was feisty."
Mrs. Warshaw died Nov. 30 of natural causes. She had been active until a few months ago when medications and a sore in her mouth started to cause her health to decline. She was 98 years old.
Mrs. Warshaw stood only about 4 feet 9 inches tall and always drove huge cars.
"You'd just see the top of her head over the dashboard," said her grandson, Brad Salzer.
She had a lifelong passion for creativity and for learning new skills, her family said. That spirit never waned as she grew older.
"She was very artistic," Freedman said. "She wanted to make a table so she took woodworking classes and made a very ornate, very beautiful table. She took pottery classes, and we even had a kiln in our house. She always had the most beautiful garden. She'd plant avocado trees from seeds, mango trees from seeds. Everything grew."
She studied tai chi when she was in her 60s. And in her 90s, Mrs. Warshaw was still eager to learn new skills. She took a computer class and became an avid computer user up until the day she died, Freedman said.
She was born in Denver but grew up in Manhattan, where she met her husband, Joe.
Joe Warshaw was a jeweler, and the family moved to Tampa in 1948 for a business opportunity. He opened Franklin Jewelers in downtown Tampa and ran it for the next 50 years. (He sold the store, and it remained open for several years after Joe Warshaw retired.)
Tampa in the 1940s was a huge change for the Warshaw family, but Mrs. Warshaw didn't have any trouble with the adjustment.
"One thing about my grandmother was that she loved Tampa," Salzer said. "Absolutely loved it."
She loved travel as well. She and her husband shared a desire to see the world, but they were determined to explore America first. In the late 1960s, they took a few months away from the family business and went on a 99-day trip across the United States by Greyhound bus, visiting all 50 states.
After that, they traveled all over the world. They had a special fondness for the Far East and India, and Mrs. Warshaw's apartment at the Grand Court, where she spent the last few years of her life after her husband's death, was filled with art and artifacts from those areas. Mrs. Warshaw would take language classes to help her communicate with people in the countries she visited.
Salzer said that even in the 1950s and '60s, when the southern United States had a reputation for intolerance, Mrs. Warshaw accepted, and even embraced, people with different lifestyles.
"If you lived together, that was okay with her. If you were gay, that was okay with her," Salzer said. "Even when she was 98, I could never have thought of her as an old person. She was always very progressive, always trying new things, always so strong. I really couldn't have asked for a better grandmother."
Besides Freedman, Mrs. Warshaw is survived by her daughters Binnie Coppersmith and Iris Salzer, nine grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren.
Marty Clear writes life stories of Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.