MIAMI SHORES – On Wednesday morning, Aug. 14, four months shy of her 100th birthday, Florence Newman passed of general respiratory failure at her Miami Shores home, in the presence of her husband Leon, her son Jay and her dog Benny.
Her prayer that she pass peacefully in her sleep was met after eight years of intermittent physical and mental difficulties of varying seriousness, through which she showed persistent strength, family members said. Hers was a battle for focused and coordinated care, they noted, in which she was able to avoid in general the afflictions of losing her mobility.
Newman was born in 1913 in Providence, R.I. After losing her father in the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, her family and community life really began in New York, where at age 14 she started a lifetime of hospital volunteer work.
Following occupational training at the Hebrew Technical Institute, she joined the New York theatrical agency of Mark Leddy, a leading agent for singers, dancers, comedy and variety acts for top clubs and hotels in the U.S. and around the world, and then for television shows including The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1938, she introduced her soon-to-be husband, Leon, to the agency and they married on Christmas day that year. In 1947 they adopted their son Jay, at birth through the ties of a cousin-in-law.
In 1957 the family moved to New Jersey, and in 1965 to Los Angeles for Mr. Newman to head a leading television ad agency. In 1970, they moved to Miami for Leon to manage business interests and settled in Miami Shores, where they were fixtures at village council meetings and community activities. Both continued to work into their 70s and enjoyed traveling.
Family members describe Newman as a devoted wife and mother, a giver who had a pure heart and simple needs, who even with a family and a job, always found time to volunteer at local hospitals. According to a 1996 Miami Herald “Neighbors” article, Newman at age 82 was volunteering three times a week or more at North Shore Medical Center near, to their home in Miami Shores.
“I always felt like I wanted to do things for people,” Newman said. “I will wash down a bed and put fresh linens on. I’ll do charts and I’ll run to the lab.
Whatever they want me to do … To me, if someone needs a bed pan in a hurry, that is very important.” Even being able to get a patient to eat made her happy.
Starting in 2004, when she was 91, Florence began to go through waves of life-threatening difficulties and hospitalizations. Probably the greatest difficulty she faced during that period was not being able to give or do for others as she had, and which she lived for, said family members. Reluctantly, in mid-2008 she accepted day-to-day care, in particular of her nurses aide Claudette Hamm.
“She was the most caring person I know,” Hamm said. “She was kind and loving. She always thought about other people and that’s what I liked about her. She always told me about the wonderful life she had, how she was the lucky one to have her husband of 75 years and her son, and how she liked her jobs in show business and volunteering at hospitals.”