You must’ve been a beautiful baby, ’cause baby look at you now.
In 1927, 12-month-old Florence Berger Kauffman’s cherubic face earned her a first prize in the Mount Sinai Hospital baby show and a front-page picture in the Toronto Star.
Now 90, she’s still a knockout.
As she sits in her Forest Hill home flipping through scrapbooks of magazine covers and newspaper articles that feature her picture, Kauffman remembers her early days.
It all began with her father, a man too attractive for his own good.
“He was Russian and very handsome… the women just went crazy for him,” she recalled.
As a teenager she caused a stir wherever she went. She posed for the New York-based Power modeling agency, and at 17 she set the Toronto Eaton’s store aflutter because other shoppers mistook her for movie star Elizabeth Taylor.
When she started working at Mount Sinai, the stirring didn’t stop, but this time it was in the heart of a young doctor.
“He was interning at Mount Sinai, and I was training to be a lab technician. And the minute he saw me that was it,” she said. “He didn’t leave me until the day he died.”
While Phillip Kauffman felt an instant attraction, Florence’s heart proved pickier.
“I thought, oh my God, he was half-bald and everything, but he was so sweet I sort of tolerated it until I really, really fell in love with him.”
The couple fell into the comfortable routine of married life, and six children — three boys and three girls — soon followed, but in 1962 her husband died suddenly from a brain aneurism.
Left with a house full of kids and no income, Florence said, she had no choice but to find work. She settled on selling corporate insurance at a time when women were a rarity in the industry.
“Are you kidding? The Jewish women were shocked somebody would go out working to begin with,” she said. “I had to do it, and that was it. I couldn’t afford to sit at home and feel sorry for myself.”
Her gender wasn’t the only thing that made her stick out. Florence cut a captivating figure in an ankle-length raccoon coat and a brown cowboy hat — an outfit she credits with helping her succeed.
“Customers just let me into buildings and boardrooms out of curiosity, I’m sure.”
At 76, she was still getting calls from magazines like Chatelaine which asked her to pose as a senior sex symbol.
“I kept getting attention. I don’t really know why,” she said. “I never really worried about how I look because I had six children so I was pretty busy.”
She still lives on her own and stays mobile with the help of a leopard-print cane. Her once thick, dark hair has turned grey, but dark streaks give it a dramatic flair, and her slight figure is as sprightly as ever, even if it’s a bit smaller.
“I used to be 5-foot-4, but at 90 I must be 5-foot-1,” she said. “You definitely shrink when you get older; that’s something you need to prepare yourself for.”
She still gets approached on the street by admirers struck by her good looks, but says she’s never taken the compliments seriously.
“It’s never gone to my head. I’m not compulsively concentrating on beauty,” she said. “It’s so silly. I’m 90 years old.”
Florence firmly believes older women owe it to themselves to take pride in their appearance. They’ve lived a long life; they deserve to be a little selfish.
Her tips? Eat healthy, focus on loving the ones who love you back and don’t worry about the way you look.
“I never thought of myself as a sex symbol,” she said. “When people say that I laugh. I’m a mother. That was my greatest role.”