Remembering the memorable Vivian Zwick



A really remarkable woman died Sunday (April 9).

Vivian Zwick passed away a day after her 106th birthday. Think about that for a minute: 106 years old. Wowza!

I most recently got together with Zwick when she was somewhat younger – 105, not long after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June and Missouri immediately activated the state’s trigger law banning legal abortion.

I visited Zwick at her residence at the Gatesworth because I knew of her volunteer work in reproductive health and wondered what she thought about the high court’s decision. Her daughter, Barbara Sander, who was visiting at the time, told me that her mom sometimes struggles to find the right words to communicate her thoughts, but usually can get her point across. And so when I asked how she felt about the Supreme Court overturning the Roe decision, she didn’t hesitate.

“Bad,” Zwick said. “I thought it was ridiculous, and I thought, here we go again. We need to fight to change it again.”

Zwick understood this better than most because she had been at the forefront of the battle for women’s reproductive rights before abortion was legalized in the United States in 1973. She got involved with reproductive rights through her good friend Judith Widdicombe, a registered nurse and pro-choice advocate who was head of an organization called Pregnancy Consultation Services. Widdicombe trained Zwick and other volunteers how to counsel pregnant clients seeking to terminate their pregnancies and send them to New York, where safe and legal abortions were allowed.

Zwick later became president of the board of Reproductive Health Services, which Widdicombe had begun after Roe v. Wade in 1973; Zwick championed the merge of that organization into Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. She served on the board of that Planned Parenthood for the rest of her life.

Speaking of boards, Zwick was the first woman president of the Jewish Light’s Board of Trustees.

In this 1975 image, Vivian Zwick, newly elected president of the Light board of trustees, presents a bound volume of the previous year’s issues to her predecessor, Rabbi Alvan D. Rubin. With them (from left) are Robert A. Cohn, editor-in-chief; David Rabinovitz, secretary; Morris H. Sterneck, treasurer; and vice presidents Frank Roth, Joseph J. Edlin and Michael N. Newmark. Photo by Peter Ferman

If you read Zwick’s obituary, you’ll learn a lot more about her volunteer efforts and the honors she collected as a result of her philanthropic work.

I might also mention that Vivian Zwick was a true beauty, inside and out. When I visited last year, she was impeccably dressed in slacks, a matching sweater and vest. Her white hair was brushed to frame her smiling face and her eyes, even at her advanced age, shined.

Her daughter told me that her mother had always been a role model and that she had been inspired to follow her mother’s lead of tikkun olam, doing what she could to help repair the world.

I can’t imagine what it would be like to live to 106. In my case, that would mean living for another 40 years. What will the world be like then? Will abortion be legal again across the United States?

Living a long, productive, vital life are among Zwick’s many achievements. A 67-year marriage to her husband, Sander Zwick, who died in 2005. Two children, five grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and one step-great-grandchild. Years and years of volunteering in the St. Louis Jewish and secular communities.

When I visited last year and asked her what was top of mind at 105 years of age, without missing a beat she responded, “If I’ll make it to 106.”

Well Vivian, you did it. You’ll be remembered for that and so much more.