View From Nearly 99: Frances Kolarek Reflects On Politics And Change The former newspaper reporter was born in 1917, before women won the right to vote. She calls Hillary Clinton the most qualified presidential candidate she has seen in her lifetime.

View From Nearly 99: Frances Kolarek Reflects On Politics And Change

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Now we're going to meet someone with a long view on presidential elections.

FRANCES REYNOLDS KOLAREK: I'm Frances Reynolds Kolarek, born in Washington, D.C., in 1917.

CORNISH: Nineteen-Seventeen, three years before women won the right to vote. Our colleague Melissa Block visited Kolarek to hear about her life over this past century and her view of this election.

KOLAREK: We'll head for my apartment.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: Frances Kolarek greets me from her red scooter at the retirement community where she lives independently outside Washington, D.C. Just one week away from turning 99, Frances has bright-blue eyes, an easy laugh, a passion for words and The New York Times crossword.

KOLAREK: That's the first thing I do. I cut the crossword puzzle out, put it on a clipboard and go to work. Sometimes I've already done half of it before I have a sip of coffee.

BLOCK: Frances Kolarek, born during the First World War, grew up here in Washington. She graduated from high school at 16 and went straight to work as a secretary.

KOLAREK: For $11 a week (laughter) - about tickled to death to get it.

BLOCK: It was the bleakest point of the Great Depression. While she was working, she also started taking college classes at night studying chemistry. She was one of just two women in the program. But she always wanted to write. So when she saw an ad for a secretarial job at the Washington Times-Herald...

KOLAREK: I thought, I'm going to take that job. It's in a newspaper office and we'll see what happens.

BLOCK: By then, it was World War II. A lot of the reporters were gone serving in the war and she got a break.

KOLAREK: The phones were ringing on the city desk one day and I went out and answered them.

BLOCK: Someone was calling in with a story idea.

KOLAREK: And I wrote the story just from what he told me on the telephone. Then the city editor said, I didn't know you could write. Why didn't you tell me (laughter)?

BLOCK: She loved reporting, loved the newspaper, a mostly male preserve.

KOLAREK: It was an extremely profane, raunchy atmosphere. And I thoroughly enjoyed it (laughter). I just liked the way it smelled and tasted. And I learned how to fit in.

BLOCK: At the paper, Kolarek met the man who would become her husband. She went on to work for Time Magazine as a reporter researcher and as a stringer in Prague when her husband was posted overseas with the Foreign Service right after the war. They'd move on to postings in Belgrade, Guinea and Bonn and they had a daughter.

KOLAREK: I never stopped to think about what I couldn't do. It never occurred to me. Anything I had wanted to do I had managed to achieve.

BLOCK: Frances Kolarek, who cast her first vote for FDR, has voted early for Hillary Clinton.

KOLAREK: I think she is undoubtedly the most qualified candidate for the presidency that we have seen in my lifetime.

BLOCK: Looking back at her near century of life, she says that vote has real meaning.

KOLAREK: And I would like very, very much to see Hillary succeed. I had misgivings about her running now. I just wondered if the country was ready to accept a woman as president. And I think I was wrong. I think we are.

BLOCK: Tomorrow night, Frances Kolarek will absolutely be watching as the results come in. And will she stay up as late as necessary?

KOLAREK: If I can. Being 99 isn't always easy (laughter). I do admit it but it's true.

BLOCK: Melissa Block, NPR News.

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