John Breunig (opinion): UConn women's biggest fan 'struts around in 3-inch heels' at 93

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Carolyn Lowe gets an “A” in senior living.

At 93, she “struts around in 3-inch heels” and stockings in the halls of Hart Magnet Elementary School in Stamford. After the bell rings, she slips on sneakers and heads to the gym. She has been playing golf courses around the country since taking up the sport at 60. She’s still as fashionable as she was while working as a model 75 years ago. She may be the UConn women’s basketball team’s biggest fan.

But she gets an “F’ when it comes to retiring.

Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons marked the occasion of Lowe ending her career at Hart as the city’s oldest employee by declaring March 1 “Carolyn Lowe Day.” Students and staff gathered to salute her with gifts, songs, poems and signs.

I gave Lowe a few days to put things in perspective. Tracking her down led me back to her desk at Hart, where she worked as an office support specialist. Her successor hasn’t been hired yet, so she is volunteering for the same 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. shifts (she eats lunch at her desk) she just retired from.

“What can I do for you?” she inquires.

“Nothing short of telling me your life story, I guess,” I respond.

And maybe sharing her secrets. Pay attention — they reveal themselves in the pockets of her answers.

It turns out to be a good thing Lowe is volunteering, as Principal Linda Darling is out sick, along with another colleague in the main office. Hart is in good hands.

“Some kids think (Lowe) is the principal,” says Anna Marie Walker, a special education paraeducator at Hart who has worked with Lowe since 1997.

It may have something to do with the way those heels trumpet Lowe’s foreboding arrival, times when she reliably keeps students (and staff) on their own toes. “She’ll get in anyone’s face,” Walker jokes. “In a nice way.”

The heels aren’t always 3 inches high. Lowe sounds like a shoe salesman when she describes her closet options.

“I have every kind of shoe you want. Suede. Patent leather. All colors. Different heels. I have high heels, low heels,” she says. “They complete my outfits. I’d never wear flat shoes with a nice dress. That’s a no-no.”

I can see why Lowe’s colleagues once gave her a Barbie doll dressed as a UConn cheerleader. She has five closets at home, filled with “summer clothes, play clothes, winter clothes, gym clothes, golf clothes.”

“I don’t buy anything anymore because I have no more room in my closets,” Lowe confesses.

That doesn’t stop her from peeking through online catalogs from her desk at Hart.

It’s easy to trace the path of her heels back to the late 1940s. After graduating from Stamford High School in 1947, she went to modeling school and posed for a fashion house in the garment district in New York City for a spell. “I was too short,” for photo modeling, she recalls.

Lowe doesn’t hesitate to dig deeper into the closets for reasons she became a fashionista. She was born Carolyn Anne Annunziato in Port Chester, N.Y., on Oct. 9, 1929, 15 days before the stock market crashed. She endured the Depression in her native Port Chester, N.Y., before moving to Stamford.

“We were very poor,” she remembers. “We never really had any clothes.”

She wore ill-fitted hand-me-downs made by an aunt, putting pins in the skirts to make them fit. Cardboard covered holes in her shoes.

She was a good student, earning enough credits at Stamford High School that she could have skipped senior year. She deems high school “the best time of my life.”

“I loved school, I loved school, I loved school,” she says.

It took almost 40 years, but she eventually found her way back.

After marrying Ralph T. Lowe, Jr., she moved into the home on Soundview Avenue in Stamford where she still resides (it’s about 235 years old). With three kids, she took a job from 5 p.m. to midnight preparing financial statements for the president of Putnam Trust Co. on Mason Street in Greenwich to review the following morning.

In 1986 she started a new career when she became school secretary at K.T. Murphy School. Retiring after a 37-year career in education is not atypical. Lowe’s tenure just happened to start when she was 56 (her husband died in 1988).

“I loved it. I like people and all the kids and the teachers. It was really a great beginning at an older age. Something new and exciting.”

For those first few years, she embraced the school’s location by changing clothes at lunchtime and walking laps at nearby Cove Island Park. She moved over to Hart in 1994.

She took up golf around that time, playing Thursdays during summer recess at E. Gaynor Brennan in Stamford and traveling to try other courses and watch the pros at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Not surprisingly, she is not the type of player to pick up the ball when things go awry.

“We all played terrible but we love it. It’s just about getting out there,” she say, slipping out another secret. “I didn’t care if it took 15 strokes. I never gave up.”

A pause for clarification: “Not that I ever needed 15 strokes."

She’s already revealed several, but I finally ask the question directly: “What’s your secret?”

“I’ll tell ya. I really think exercise is very important. … And keeping the mind alert. I read a lot and do a lot of crossword puzzles. I think the best thing I did was to continue to work. You don’t have time to think about yourself. If I had a pain in my back I’d say ‘OK, it will go away tomorrow.’ "

Exercise means 65 minutes on a treadmill the day before. Working out on 12 machines at Tully Health Center the next time. Golf season is coming. And she looks forward to swimming at Cummings beach come summer.

First comes Retirement, Part II. She has April 1 circled on her mental calendar. It seems fitting, as Women’s History Month will have lapsed (though I don’t entirely trust her as it’s also April Fool’s Day).

The only time she becomes wistful during our chat is when I ask about the Hart children. She talks about them greeting her in the office each morning with “I love you, Mrs. Lowe” and treasures when students of decades past return to visit.

“I’m getting choked up, you have to forgive me.”

But retirement plans await. She wants to get going on finally giving the house a good cleaning, room by room. Trips to visit family members around the country will include time on the links.

“With the good Lord’s help, we’ll see what happens. Hopefully, I’ll have another couple of months or years. If not, so be it. I’ve lived a long time. I’m 93. Thank you, Lord. I’m not going to make any long distance plans. Just day by day."

“Just like golf, one hole at a time,” I tell her.

The comment draws that joyous laugh, that cackle that has punctuated our conversation like 3-inch heels on the floor of Hart's halls. That laugh that can’t hide itself among Carolyn Lowe’s many secrets to living well.     

John Breunig is editorial page editor of the Stamford Advocate and Greenwich Time.;