By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Arlington – At age 86, Lillian Christmas is, as she says, “an artist, athlete and advocate.” She has run in numerous road races, including marathons in Boston and Montreal, even though she did not start serious training until she was in her late 40s. She is also an artist who tries to work at her craft every day if possible. And it is through those two passions that she helps others.
Christmas, who was born and raised in Cambridge, was the eighth of 10 children. After graduating from high school, she had what she said was a “wonderful career,” working for a number of businesses as an administrative and executive assistant. At different times she worked in prestigious positions as an executive assistant for Edwin H. Land, the co-founder of Polaroid; Dr. Fred. L. Whipple, an astronomer who worked at the Harvard College Observatory; Lawrence D. Shubow, a retired Brookline District Court judge; and Erich Segal, a Yale classics professor who was also the author of the iconic novel, “Love Story.”
“At all of my jobs, I loved them and they loved me,” she recalled fondly.
It was when she was working at a company in Cambridge that she met a couple, she said, who sparked her interested in first walking for exercise and then running. It was something she found she loved.
She ran a series of road races before running her first Boston Marathon in 1986 at age 55. In all, she has run Boston five times, finishing all but one time.
“I got too arrogant and wasn’t able to finish,” she said ruefully.
Many of the races she has run have also been fundraisers for various organizations.
Christmas has also served as a participant in the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center Research Registry, also known as the HOPE Study (Health Outreach Program for the Elderly), which studies memory and aging. On the organization’s website, she shared in an interview explaining why it was important for her, an African American woman, to be part of such a study.
After she retired from the corporate world in 2000, she was able to devote time to her other major passion, painting – particularly watercolors.
“I had done some when I was a kid,” she said. “I was always the happiest person in class.”
As a retiree, she took classes from several artists and offered at local senior centers.
Her work has been exhibited at the Brookline Senior Center where she served for a time as a member of the Council on Aging.
She specifically enjoys painting flowers, she said.
“I’ve turned my apartment into an art gallery,” she said. “I love to have my paintings on the wall, along with my family photos. I like to sketch while I am listening to music.”
And she is also a teacher now, working with a young boy whose grandfather lives in her building.
“It’s important to have a positive outlook,” she said of her life philosophy. “And always keep moving. Walking is the best exercise – I do it a lot. But if you can’t go outside, it’s important to do something in your home. Move every day.”