My friend Corrine Jacobson turned 90 the other day. I'll never forget when we met. She was fighting crime. Age 78. The Granny Watchdog.
The year was 2006, and someone stole mail out of Corrine's outdoor mailbox in Fort Worth.
Not long after, a woman walked into a bank and pretended to be Corinne. She cashed $1,000 worth of checks stolen from Corrine's mailbox.
Corinne complained to state and federal agencies, police, U.S. Postal Inspectors, a bank and credit card agencies.
"Sometimes you can complain to everybody and nothing happens," Granny Watchdog told me at the time. "I wrote to everybody and did everything I was supposed to do, and nobody cared."
She didn't let it drop. She spent six months trying to get her money back. Granny Watchdog kept logs of her phone calls and correspondence.
With the help of a neighbor whose mail was also stolen, they fingered the thief. The crook had returned to the block when she shouldn't have. When they figured it out, they called police. A 29-year-old woman was arrested and served eight months in jail.
Corrine got a locked mailbox.
'Book still applies'
When I saw Corrine a couple of years later, she was writing a book. She was 80.
I wish everyone could have a copy of A Handbook for Widows. Unfortunately, it's out of print.
When her husband died, Corrine was faced with writing an obituary, paying medical bills, reading insurance policies and settling an estate. Nothing had prepared her.
She was an extraordinarily successful businesswoman. A 1969 Fort Worth Star-Telegram story called her a "pioneer business woman in a man's field." She ran a multimillion-dollar company that supplied safety equipment to industrial workers. She negotiated contracts with some of America's largest companies.
Yet she wasn't prepared to live on her own.
She kept a diary of all that followed and devised do's and don't's for the widow's handbook.
"The book still applies," she tells The Watchdog when I call to wish her happy birthday.
"You still have to learn how to live, how to face the world, how to look after your money, and how to maintain a friendship. I say that's the most important thing."
Here's some advice from her handbook, which she wrote with Rose M. Rubin:
Funeral security: During a funeral, make sure someone stays at the family home. Thieves read obituaries.
Top advice: Make sure both spouses' names are jointly listed as primary holders on bank accounts, credit cards and all utility bills.
Avoid major decisions: After a spouse's death, avoid any quick life changes. For example, don't immediately sell a home and move away.
Don't lose control: Avoid giving complete control to anyone else to be responsible for your finances.
Seek advice and study subjects: Learn about finance and investment strategies you may not know about.
Even though the book is out of print, I found copies for sale on Amazon, eBay and elsewhere for $4 to $21.
Granny Watchdog says she's retired from watchdogging.
"All I do is try to stay alive," the 90-year-old says, laughing. She lives with her kids.
"I still have a good life. I play Mahjong on Fridays. And reading the newspaper is my salvation. That's my afternoon project. Crossword puzzle. Word games. And, of course, The Watchdog."
Thank you, Corrine. I know you're reading. Happy birthday from one watchdog to another.
Staff writer Marina Trahan Martinez contributed to this report.
More advice from the book
A widow should purchase a smartphone. "This is a must when you live alone," the 2009 book states.
Call a locksmith to check all locks on doors and windows.
Get regular diagnostic checkups for your car.
Pets provide companionship. "If you are not a dog or cat lover ... think about having a bird or a fish as a pet."
Volunteer. Reach "out to someone younger than you who needs a friend. You can be that friend."
Don't be afraid to visit a church or synagogue's singles group.
When you schedule with a banker, accountant or lawyer or others, always schedule an early appointment. "Be one of the first clients of the day so that you will not have to wait."
ABOUT THIS COLUMN
The Watchdog Desk works for you to shine light on questionable practices in business and government. We welcome your story ideas and tips.
Contact The Watchdog
Write: Dave Lieber, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265