La Cañada Flintridge’s Mary Naff celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by more than 100 friends associated with the Cañada Crescenta Democratic Club that she helped found 12 years ago. The crowd included some noteworthy area politicians, including state Sen. Anthony Portantino and state Assemblywoman Laura Friedman.
“We do this every year, but it was only because of my 100th that I was anything, because I’m not an officer or anything,” Naff said. “We had a mixture of all ages and races and Anthony gave me a proclamation; it was a nice little presentation. He belongs to our club, and he’s particularly important right now.”
Naff said lifelong interest in politics included her first vote, in 1942, for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She now lives independently in her tidy home in the Flintridge area, with only a gardener, a pool man and a driver to assist her. She’s bequeathed the home and all her belongings, she said, to her alma mater, UC Berkeley.
Born June 17, 1917, Naff was raised in Oakland. Her mother encouraged travel and education, so after attending Oakland public schools, she set aside dreams of becoming a dancer to study at UC Berkeley, where she majored in French and graduated in 1939, before spending an additional year as a graduate student at Cal State San Francisco. Only about 5% of the population attended universities at that time, and even fewer women, according to a biography compiled by LCF’s Dona Mitoma.
“I realized I had to make a living, I had to be practical, and I wanted to get a degree anyway,” Naff said. “But I think all that early stretching and exercise and everything kept me in good shape for my whole life.”
Naff, who stands 5 feet, said she’s not a health nut, but she’s never weighed more than 100 pounds. “That’s not exactly a health rule, probably vanity,” she said. “But I think the weight was a factor [in her longevity.]”
After graduating from UC Berkeley, teaching jobs were sparse as America was still in the Great Depression. Naff found her first job in San Simeon, where she worked in a one-room schoolhouse and taught grades 1-5.
In 1942, she moved back to Oakland to be closer to family and friends.
And then, after World War II, Naff continued teaching in the Bay Area, traveling during the summer to Hawaii and Guatemala, and once spending three months alone living in a Paris boarding house. Another summer, she continued her graduate education studies at Stanford.
In 1951, she met Gordon Naff at the Officer’s Club in Oakland. He had served in the Pacific in the war and was redeployed into the military and on his way to Korea. Upon his return from Korea, Gordon Naff returned to his printing business in Highland Park, where his brother was his partner.
They expanded the business to include printing on plastic materials and later began making plastic containers: Highland Plastics is still going strong after 80 years.
Mary and Gordon enjoyed traveling together, including an around-the-world trip. They celebrated their 60th anniversary before his death.
Passionate about supporting UC Berkeley, another of Naff’s favorite causes is Planned Parenthood, which she has supported for more than 60 years.
“Life is not perfect,” Naff said. “I walk slowly and I’m also deaf, but I’m glad to be alive.”