February 26, 2020

Making a Name for Herself

Jackie Fromm, 96

Jackie Fromm has written 178 stories about her life. But the question most people ask her is why she changed her name from Esther Harriet Fromm (nee Asbyll) to Jackie Fromm. 

She said following the unexpected death of her husband, she attended singles events where people kept mishearing her name, Essie, and instead called her Bessie or Tessie. So she consulted some baby name books to try to find a new name and decided on Valerie. Then, she realized, “People aren’t going to call you Valerie. They’re going to shorten it to Val Fromm, which sounds like some kind of medication: ‘Take two Valfromms and call me in the morning.’” So she chose Jackie, a name that was popular at the time because of Jackie Onassis and which “seemed to fit,” she said.

Born into an Orthodox family in Sudbury, in northern Ontario, Canada, her father was a fur trapper and her mother insisted on keeping kosher even though there was no kosher butcher shop within 400 miles. 

Fromm is a Francophile who has been to France eight times. She loves the water — and points to various water-themed art pieces in her apartment. When she used to draw, she’d sketch canoes and sailboats, and after her husband died, she joined a sailing club, which she called “the best thing I ever did in my entire life.” She was an active crew member on sailboats for 40 years, until she stopped at age 82.

A self-described “Jackie of all trades,” Fromm played trumpet in the Montreal Women’s Symphony, where Leonard Bernstein once was the guest conductor.

A self-described “Jackie of all trades,” Fromm played trumpet in the Montreal Women’s Symphony, where Leonard Bernstein once was the guest conductor, “when he was young and gorgeous, and I had such a big crush on him.” She also performed at Carnegie Hall. And she played guitar for 50 years until a few months ago when she had to stop because of carpal tunnel and also because hearing loss “made the music sound bad.”

Her two daughters in Los Angeles, her nephew David, who visits weekly, and a son in San Diego form Fromm’s local support system. She cooks for her nephew when he visits. “I’m still a damned good cook,” she notes.

Fromm has three main secrets to staying young and vital. First, staying active. She has back pain from being thrown from a horse when she was 20 but it doesn’t slow her down. She uses a walker, but swiftly and spryly. 

“When you get older, you have to do things, you have to use your muscles,” she said. Even while making her bed, “I don’t just plod along. I literally run around the bed because that’s my exercise.”

Secondly, she surrounds herself with young people. Even though she doesn’t have biological grandchildren, there are lots of children who call her “Grandma Jackie.”

And her third secret? Having a sense of humor. “If you don’t have one, it’s too bad,” she said. “It’s a gift.”