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The Remarkable Reta Banks

Published: 6/27/2013
What a movie this would make: a young champion swimmer born in Australia sets sail from Sydney – on a hospital ship carrying wounded American soldiers – lands in San Francisco, becomes a fashion consultant for I. Magnin’s and is friendly with celebrities including Bing Crosby, Marilyn Monroe and John Wayne.

Oh, but that’s not all. When she retired from fashion, she took up fishing!

Reta Banks (Image via SFGate.com)
Reta Banks (Image via SFGate.com)

Reta Banks, who died in San Francisco this month at the age of 105, became Captain Ducky in the Coast Guard Auxiliary and was a familiar sight around Fisherman’s Wharf. She eventually became a Charter Boat Captain with the Fisherman’s Wharf Fleet, skippering a commercial fishing boat.

When she turned 95, she was quoted as saying, “I go to the wharf once in a while and take a ride out to Golden Gate. It’s only for an hour but if my health stays the same, I wouldn’t mind living to 100.”

Indeed!

Five years later, the San Francisco Chronicle noted her 100th birthday, celebrated with champagne and cake and a jaunt around the bay with friends.

Here are a few other colorful facts that would make good film fodder:

• Her dad was a gold miner;
• As a toddler, she lived in a tent;
• She began her fashion career as a swimsuit model;
• As Capt. Ducky, she firmly carved out a place for women in the fishing industry;
• She was a breast cancer survivor who, after a double mastectomy, told her crew to call her Twiggy;
• And she was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) in 1981 but, according to her obituary, “miraculously recovered” thanks to her “extraordinarily positive attitude.”

Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief."

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