Bill Duffy: Living it up at 99


Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
William “Bill” Duffy stands on his front porch, which neighbors decorated with balloons and signs of birthday wishes on his 99th birthday.

Living and Leisure Editor

William “Bill” Duffy said he doesn’t feel like he’s supposed to feel at 99.
“I feel more like 59, more or less. I love being 99. I like to brag about it … I feel 10 times better than I did when I was young. My younger life, I think was, in many ways, was a worrisome time for some reason, and today I just love everything about life.”
There’s a lot to brag about for the Cortland man, a retired attorney who used to specialize in tax law. He’s got a clean bill of health from his doctor, is still a competitive swimmer — and drives his own car. An avid photographer, he’s compiling a book, using his photos for illustration. He remains interested in everything that goes on.
Duffy celebrated his 99th birthday Tuesday with friends and family. Neighbors decorated his house with streamers, balloons and Happy Birthday signs. A little girl popped in with a piece of birthday cake. He received calls from well-wishers.
“The neighbors are incredible,” said daughter Barbara Beigel, of Clinton. She spoke highly of Julia Marion and Nancy Sealy, of Cortland. “Those two really, and their friends and family, have taken him on as their own.
“We all just check on him and take care of him,” said Marion.
Duffy, whose law practice was in Syracuse, was married for 47 years to Gertrude Keogh Duffy, who died in 1984. They have three children, Nancy Duffy, of Syracuse, known for her post at Channel 9 News; Beigel, of Clinton; and George, of Corvalis, Ore. He has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Duffy said his children are his pride, citing Nancy Duffy’s years in the media, Barbara Beigel, who’s “really a great person,” and talking of how proud he is of his son. “I try to take after them.”
Though he is healthy, Duffy lost his hearing 30 years ago. Still, he says the last 30 years have been the best. “It hasn’t affected my life in any way.”
A piano player, he still plays the instrument even though he can’t hear it, and will even play the piano at nursing homes for the seniors there. He attends concerts even though he can’t hear the music. “I just enjoy watching them. As you can see, I am rather an odd guy. But I enjoy life.”
This quality is one that his daughter, Beigel, most admires.
“What says the most about him — he wants to compete in Nationals (for swimming) when he is 100,” she said.
Duffy, who began swimming competitively at 78, swims in the 96 to 100 age group, Beigel said. “He’s not the only one. He always places and it’s usually gold. He’s very good … Presently, he’s looking for a coach to improve his stroke.”
Duffy competes in the Senior Games, the Empire Games and at the national level in the Senior Games.
“I competed against the best in the country, in Arizona, Virginia, Texas. I am an All American Swimmer.”
One of his walls is covered in medals and Marion said that wasn’t all, holding up another fistful.
“I had a serious operation 30 years ago. I had cancer of the colon. I was in the hospital for over one month. I had an infection, in addition to cancer, but it was successful. But I decided after I came out of it that I needed to find some sport to bring back my health. I decided on swimming. I believe that’s why I am healthy at the age of 99.”
“Blood pressure is 120/60, sugar — normal, health — normal. I have no problems health-wise except arthritis cripples me a bit, but I don’t let it bother me.”
“I just am terrifically interested in things. I think that has something to do with my continued use.”
He loves the natural world and was an honorary member of the Cortland Bird Club. An avid mineral and rock collector, he went as far as Canada for his search for minerals. He used to paint. He sang baritone in a barbershop chorus here in Cortland until he became deaf. He was a commissioner for the Cortland City Police for 10 years and was a member of the Planning Committee.
“I’ve had a pretty full life.”
Spread out on a table were huge glossy nature photos of fall images that he took himself.
“I am writing a book and illustrating it with my photographs. This is “Fall.” I will have another one for spring and another for winter.”
Asked what he’d want young people to know, he said they should be interested in the “good things in life.”