FREEDOM PLAZA – How much charm, world-travel, fashion and celebrity mixing can one Sun City Center woman pack into 104 years?
Apparently a lot.
Celebrating her most recent milestone on July 25 by throwing her own birthday party for more than 40 guests, Arabella Osborn Arnold acknowledged she has “lived a Cinderella life.”
Treasured photographs of family and presidents reflect a time gone by. Antiques, china, silver and pieces of art collected from her travels around the world adorn her one-bedroom apartment at Freedom Plaza.
“Don’t tell them your age until you have to,” Arnold said. “When you get older, they think you aren’t as smart and can’t remember things.”
But recalling the details of her life, places she’s traveled and people she’s met is something that’s not difficult for her.
Arnold was the child of a prominent family. She was raised with her four siblings in Clendenin, W. Va., studied the arts and directed numerous plays. Her father owned the Osborn Lumber Mill and built their 17-room house in 1900, which remained in the family for more than 100 years.
Longevity is something Arnold inherited from her parents who both lived into their late 90s. In good health, Arnold said, “I’m going to walk another five years and live till I die.”
Yet it’s the stories she shares about her husband, Bill, and their 48 years together that is captivating beyond her centurion status.
Arnold’s husband held a high-grade position in the CIA from 1952 to 1972. During his tenure and afterwards as a government contractor, their life was classified.
“I’m a classified girl,” Arnold said. “A lot of things we couldn’t tell people. I’m still not sure if I can.”
She and her husband never had children, yet because of that, she was able to travel with him and lived in Brazil, Tokyo, Saigon and San Francisco, in addition to Washington, D.C., near CIA headquarters.
One of her favorite places was Brazil.
“It was very cosmopolitan,” Arnold said. “Brazil had beautiful stores and churches.”
As a result of her love of fashion and shopping for the latest styles, Arnold was featured in full-page ads showcasing designers’ latest collections in Vogue magazine, while she was living in San Francisco.
Meeting presidents and first ladies, kings and queens was a normal part of her life. Having spent time with Jacqueline Kennedy, Arnold displays several Christmas cards in her home painted and signed by the former First Lady.
“She was elegant, smart and independent,” Arnold said.
A staunch Republican, Arnold nevertheless thought highly of the Kennedys.
“(They) were different,” she said, acknowledging she cherishes the family portrait of President and Mrs. Kennedy, Caroline and John-John she owns.
“I’ve done just about everything there is (to do),” Arnold said. “If I was a little younger, I’d write a book (about my life).”
Since moving to Sun City Center in 1972, Arnold has remained active in SCC’s United Community Church, the Red Hat Society and the Freedom Plaza community. A competitive bridge player, carpal tunnel in her hands has reduced her playing time. And her favorite passion – dancing – has been impacted by a fall and back surgery last year.
“She amazes me,” said Pam Hansen, one of her home companions. “She is so smart, interesting and full of fun.”
Hansen says she often watches the news with Arnold, who enjoys staying up on events and is not afraid to comment or tell anyone what she thinks.
“I’m pretty feisty,” Arnold said. “They say that if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t still be here.”
Freelance write Elaine Speer can be reached at [email protected]