Flying high: Naples retiree isn’t letting retirement keep her down

At 88, Bertha Diggs has had the kind of life that’s easy to envy.

During World War II, she served as a mailperson in the U.S. Navy, an assignment that allowed her to see and savor many cities around the United States. Around that same time, she took flight lessons and learned how to fly a plane. She never earned an official pilot’s license, but she’s still happy to go up in a plane, provided she has the right kind of teacher.

“It has to be a handsome guy,” Diggs says. “And we may not even come down.”

She has had two hip replacements, neither of which slowed her step for long. She has battled cancer – and won – and even as she approaches her ninth decade, her memory remains as crisp as a newly-starched shirt.

“My life has been really exciting, and it’s not over yet, honey,” Diggs says. “The good Lord keeps me going.”

Indeed. Because here’s the really interesting part: Many of the enviable things Diggs has done have been during the later years of her life. In September, she went parasailing. In November, she went skydiving. And someday soon, she hopes to go ballooning, if she can just find a local place that offers the activity.

“Why is it when we get a certain age, we want to do crazy things like that?” she jokes.

She recently took up golf. Even more recently, she learned how to bowl.

It might seem like a lot of activity for someone her age, but Diggs’ philosophy is simple. Make a good life for yourself, she counsels. Spend time with people who enjoy what you enjoy. After all, she says, it’s not what you know — it’s who you know.

“Our days are limited,” Diggs says. “As long as you get your two feet on the floor and have a good attitude to life go out and do it. It won’t come to you.”

Diggs was married for more than 40 years, she explains, and loved her husband deeply. But he was not a terribly adventurous man, and after his death, she decided to start doing many of the activities she hadn’t had a chance to try during her marriage. That meant embracing new hobbies and traveling to new places.

Some of those places have been nearby, such as Branson, Miss., a city of which she heartily approves. There, she saw shows, went to movies and ate at a restaurant where the servers sang to her, a practice she pronounces “cool.”

While in Branson, she also had a chance to visit the town’s Vietnam War Memorial; her son, William Franklin Diggs, died in the conflict. It wasn’t the first time Diggs has seen her son’s name on such a memorial: She has also visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C.

She has also journeyed to more distant destinations, too. Three years ago, she completed a whirlwind trip of Europe, visiting multiple countries and returning to Southwest Florida with a slew of stories. She “freaked out” when she saw the majesty of the Swiss Alps, she says. At another stop on the vacation, she stood by without a clue as a jewelry store was being robbed a few feet away.

She laughs to recall it. That was a wonderful trip.

It’s still a wonderful trip.

“Life is a wonderful thing, if you know how to take care of it and know how to do it,” she says.

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E-mail Elizabeth Kellar at liz@elizabethkellar.com.

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