When asked about her secret to a long life, actress and comedian Betty White once quipped, “Vodka and hot dogs … probably in that order.” She was also a self-proclaimed “cockeyed optimist.” Severna Park resident Richard Cilley Bartlett, known to friends and family as Dick C., would likely approve of that approach.
Bartlett turned 100 years old on March 8, attributing his longevity to his optimism, staying active by mowing his own lawn, and having one glass of alcohol each night, among other things.
His positive mindset and active lifestyle have served him well since his adolescence. Bartlett grew up in Severna Park and attended Annapolis High School before Severna Park had its own high school. A former naval aviator, he served in both World War II and the Korean War.
“Everyone wanted to go in World War II. It was different than any other war,” Bartlett said, alluding to the sense of patriotic duty that many Americans adopted following the attack on Pearl Harbor. “Being college age, you feel pretty confident you can do anything.”
Bartlett had his choice between military branches, but his preference was never in doubt.
“My father worked for the U.S. Naval Engineering Experiment Station in Annapolis, so the Navy was my first choice,” Bartlett said.
He departed for training in Pensacola, Florida. By June 1943, he was designated a naval aviator and based at Terminal Island in California. Later, he was sent to the Aleutian Islands, which is Alaskan territory, and spent six months stationed on Kiska Island.
Between his trips, he was married in October 1943, and he returned home in December 1944.
Only six years later, the United States was involved in another international conflict. During the Korean War, Bartlett flew from the USS Antietam aircraft carrier.
“We only flew at nighttime, and we had targets of opportunity,” he said. “Targets of opportunity would be troops traveling on the railway or roads at night.”
One of those targets was part of a mission that earned Bartlett the Distinguished Flying Cross medal.
“One of the raids we made, we found a target in a whole line of trucks traveling at night and we managed to get him under fire,” Bartlett said, adding that he was surprised to be honored with a few medals during his tour in Korea. “It’s something you don’t think about at the time, but it was nice to know you were awarded for your time.”
Bartlett served the Navy for 25 years, reaching the rank of commander and spending his post-Korea days with a training squadron in Monterey, California, and then in Washington, D.C. His family lived in Rhode Island at one point before moving to Annapolis, close to Bartlett’s hometown of Severna Park where he now resides.
Retirement afforded him time to become actively involved with both the Annapolis Yacht Club and the Severn Sailing Association. He said he enjoyed “just being out there and letting the wind control where it takes me. Also, the competitive spirit.”
Bartlett passed his love for sailing onto one of his daughters and his son. The veteran had two sons and two daughters from his first marriage to Frances Fisher. One of his sons had muscular dystrophy and died at age 19. Bartlett’s wife died in 1987 and he later married his current spouse, Mary Ellen, becoming a stepfather to her two children.
He’s been married to Mary Ellen for 33 years. At 93 years old, she is also spry for her age.
Her companionship has helped him in his older years along with his active lifestyle and positive mindset.
“I don’t let things bother me that much. I’m a patient person,” he said. “I would say I’m quite optimistic. It’s worked out well.”
Bartlett’s father lived until age 93 and his mother lived until age 87. None of his three younger brothers are living.
While genetics may have contributed to him aging well, many habits likely play a role. His diet is another example. He cooks his own breakfast every day, alternating between combinations of eggs, cereals, waffles, pancakes, bacon, chipped beef with gravy, eggs and asparagus on toast. His lunch usually consists of soup or salad. For dinner, he prefers a balanced meal that often includes steak, seafood or vegetables.
“I’ve never worried about, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t eat eggs or you should only have low-fat butter,’” Bartlett said. “We’ve always just eaten what’s around.
“Every evening, I have one drink,” he said. “Right now, it’s scotch.”
As he reflects on his 100-year milestone, Bartlett feels like he has much to be grateful for, including his military career. He has some advice for anyone considering a similar path.
“I had a wonderful career in the Navy and in aviation, so I’d recommend anyone looking for excitement should try it,” Bartlett said.
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