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Purple Reign

Jean Rath Has Been Awash in Her Favorite Color for 56 Years

April 01, 2001|SONDRA FARRELL BAZROD

In 1945, when L.A. native Jean Rath was 22, she realized that the color purple made her feel good. So for 56 years, she let it truly color her life. Now the retired social worker doesn't merely dress in what she calls "the most beautiful color in the world." Her house (lavender with purple trim), dishes, thermos, mailbox, typewriter, cars, pens, glasses, pepper mill, microwave, blender, cotton balls and, yes, even toilet paper, range from lavender to fuchsia. Red cabbage and blueberry ice cream are among Rath's favorite foods, and she deplores a recent dearth of purple potatoes in local markets. Conveniently, her Feb. 4 birthstone is an amethyst. Rath points out that purple is the color of royalty and is mentioned in the Bible. "As a child, I didn't want to be like everybody else," she says.

When Rath and her late husband, Bill, a retired naval officer who wore purple himself for 25 years, were out in their metallic lavender Oldsmobile sedan or light-fuchsia Chevy El Camino, people stared and police followed. Rath, 78, still drives the Olds, and one of her four grown sons often wears purple (another hates it; the remaining two are indifferent). "Being purple is the best icebreaker I know," says Jean, who forsakes the hue only for Lent. "I've made many more friends this way."

When you've been perennially purple for more than half a century, you're bound to be discovered. In 1986, Jean and Bill took a 62-day driving trip around the country to meet some of the "purple people" who contacted her after she appeared on NBC's "Real People" in June 1979, David Letterman's show in May 1984 and three Japanese programs, which led to appearances on French and English TV.

On vacations, Rath has been recognized in Germany, Spain, England and Canada. "I guess I'm an infamous semi-celebrity," she says. "Up to that point I thought I'd lived a regular life. I had aspired to be a radio announcer but settled for family and children. After 'Real People,' the people I worked with suddenly sat up and noticed me." She still gets noticed in the course of her volunteer work with the Meals on Wheels program for seniors and as an intake worker at a homeless shelter.

Of the 20 or so other purple people (including a few men) whom Rath has met in her travels, only five or six dress entirely in purple. She has visited a purple boarding house in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a store in Boston that sells only purple products. For those who think it's preposterous to be primarily purple, Rath says, "There's risk involved in being laughed at. I was only jeered at once, in New York. Most people laugh with you."

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