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Sarasota Wednesday, Jul. 14, 2021 2 months ago

Centenarian Joe Newman known for wisdom, advocacy for change

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The Aviva senior resident was 108.
by: Harry Sayer Staff Writer

Joe Newman wanted to make the world a better place. 

From his early days learning about social causes from his parents in Indiana to his most recent years residing and leading a philosophy group at Aviva Senior Living, Newman was committed to learning more about the world around him and finding ways to help those who lived in it.

He also tried to live his life to the fullest, to the every end. Newman was well-known for driving his red Mercedes convertible even up to the age of 106. His friend Richard Weingarten recalls how Newman, an accountant before retirement, and his partner Anita Sampson would dance at the foundation’s pool deck just a few months ago.

There was never a time where Newman felt his age was keeping him from enjoying himself. He often told colleagues at the Aviva residence that instead of feeling fear, it was better to accept growing old and enjoy the moment. 

Newman died on July 10 from natural causes. He was 108. 

During an interview in January, upon the occasion of his most recent birthday, Newman said he thinks if every person was just kind to the people around them, society would reach a better place. 

“Any time you meet anyone, hope that when you leave them they'll feel glad they met you,” he said then. “Try to make them feel that even for a few seconds, life’s a little brighter, a little happier. I think if each of us took a piece of that responsibility, some of this dissension will dissipate.”

Newman’s passion for change and advocacy was perhaps inevitable. His parents, who immigrated from Russia after being jailed for protesting a tsar’s regime, taught him from an early age the importance of knowing what was right and the dedication to make the world better.

That advocacy for change often translated to action. He and his first wife Sophie had a daughter with special needs in 1938 who passed in 1966, prompting him to eventually found the Logan’s School for Retarded Children in 1950 to serve families and individuals with special needs.

He let people know how he felt, too. Joe Newman’s nephew Geoff Newman said his uncle was often opinionated but always wanted the betterment of mankind. Joe Newman ran for Congress against Republican Vern Buchanan as a write-in candidate at 101 years old to bring new discussions into the Sarasota community in 2014. He garnered 136 votes.

That love of discussion carried with him to his time at Aviva where he led fellow residents in the Socrates Café philosophy club each week. Debating hot-button topics  gave Newman an excitement that he felt helped keep his mind active even as he entered the last years of his life.

“He provided such knowledge of current and former political environments and through his Socrates class brought a new level of education and awareness to our resident body,” Aviva president and CEO Jay Solomon said.  “He will truly be a loss to our community.”

Geoff Newman, 80, visited Joe Newman shortly before his passing and said he was still sharp. 

“He always had your interests at heart,” he said. “He made suggestions to you and offered guidance to you, but if he made recommendations it was what he genuinely thought was in your best interest. In that respect, he was a very giving and committed family member.”

Joe Newman arranged for his remains to be studied at a University of Miami research project focused on aging and dementia. Newman is survived by Geoff Newman as well as several nieces, nephews and other family members.

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