Olga Marcus, whose marriage to Beverly Hills dentist David Marcus lasted almost six decades, suddenly found herself, at 80, alone and isolated.
"It was a terrible shock when my husband passed away suddenly, in 1988," she said. "I'd always been rather slight, but David was like the Rock of Gibraltar. We both assumed I'd go first."
The Marcuses lived for more than 30 years in a spacious contemporary home designed by John Lautner on one acre of Brentwood Park.
"We led busy lives and entertained a lot," she said. "My husband's patients included many celebrities, and many were personal friends. My own involvement with politics also brought us into a wide circle of interesting people.
"But with David gone, our wonderful house suddenly felt empty. I wanted out.
"Well-meaning friends cautioned me not to think of moving, for at least a year. And my children pleaded with me to remain in the family home.
"I could have continued there without any financial burden, but the house no longer fit my needs.
"I had a pool I hadn't used in years, my garden had a half an acre of lawn and 40 large cymbidiums that required special care. You can let dust accumulate in a home but you can't let a garden go."
Far more appealing to Marcus was the thought of someday having valet parking at her beck and call and round-the-clock security. She envisioned a convenient location for friends to drop by, and public transportation that was close enough, if she decided not to drive.
Four months after her husband passed away, Olga Marcus accepted a $2.5-million offer for her home and purchased a luxury condominium on Wilshire's Golden Mile near Westwood. The total cost for the three-bedroom apartment, including major renovation, came to about $600,000.
"I don't feel as if I traded down. It was more like trading off. When my priorities changed, I wanted things that would free me to continue an active lifestyle and provide for any future physical limitations that might develop," Marcus said.
"The only disadvantage about living in an apartment is that I can't go outside and cut flowers. So I now buy a lot of flowers and look for every opportunity to snip them from my friends' gardens."
Marcus, a co-founder of volunteer organizations, Women For and Teach Foundation, as well as former key campaigner for presidential candidates, served 11 years on the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pension Commission. She still keeps a full schedule.
On Mondays she runs errands; Tuesdays, she attends board meetings as commissioner of the City Employees Retirement System, and as its newly elected president; Wednesdays, she joins in discussions sponsored by the Plato Society at UCLA; Thursdays, she gets her hair done and plays bridge.
"Saturdays I leave open for family and social functions, and Fridays and Sundays are for playing golf," said Marcus, who recently returned from a golf-playing tour of New Zealand and Australia.
"It's nice to be able to close the door and go--whenever I feel like it."
Marcus is aware of other domestic options, though it has never occurred to her to have someone live with her, though she can visualize eventually living in a retirement hotel.
"In sickness you want your family around but when you're older, even more than family, you need companionship among peers with whom you can communicate," she added.
"I have wonderful children who respond lovingly to my needs and I know I can always count on them. But I wouldn't want to live with my family. The less you rely on them the better the relationship.
"Getting old is such a personal thing. I admire people who can cut themselves off from their community when they retire or become widowed. That takes a great deal of courage. I moved only a short distance away."
Marcus describes life as a series of cycles. "When you finish one cycle in your life, you better close it and move on confidently to the next. I take each new cycle in stride."