Anne Longfellow always liked a nice set of wheels.
When she lived in Paris for a few years after her kids grew up, she rode around town on a Vespa, the sleek, quick motor scooter.
But later, when she moved full time to Cape May — where her family has owned a home for 160 years — Longfellow had to change how she rolled.
She got around on a motorized wheelchair, which she needed after a massive stroke — at just 62 — left her unable to walk, paralyzed her right side and severely damaged her speaking ability.
So Longfellow slowed down, but she kept moving after that shocking change to her life. She adapted and enjoyed her friends, her family and her world before she died last month at 74.
And the stroke did nothing to her sense of style, so she wanted her wheelchair — called a Rascal — customized.
“She had somebody paint red flames on it, like a hot rod,” says Alix Longfellow, of Cape May, Anne’s daughter. “And my brother and his friend attached a portable radio. ... So she had this flaming red wheelchair, and she’d go around playing (Wagner’s) ‘Ride of the Valkyries’” — maybe best known as the “Apocalypse Now” music.
After her stroke, Anne also needed an assisted-living facility, where Alix says the management worried about how fast Anne cruised around on the Rascal.
“We told them that we didn’t want her to hurt herself or anyone else, but ... if she couldn’t get out on her wheelchair, there would be no point in her living,” Alix says.
Betty Moffatt, of Cape May, remembers Anne as an excellent tennis player before the stroke. And after it, Moffatt led a collection among their tennis friends to buy Anne her Rascal.
“It was probably 30 or more people who donated anywhere from $10 to $100 to get it for her,” Moffatt says. “She went through three or four (wheelchairs), because she just wore them out.”
Michael Longfellow, Anne’s son, says she put 12,000 to15,000 miles a year on her wheelchair — not all of them local.
He once heard from a friend who saw Anne in South Philadelphia, near the sports stadiums — on her way to Center City, three-plus miles away. She also took a Bermuda cruise and a Disney World vacation with a friend and fellow Rascal-rider.
Anne booked her travels online — all with her left hand. Her family set her up with computers, and she used them for everything from chatting with her son, William, and his family in Dubai, to printing out big notes with all her requests and instructions for each day.
Michael Longfellow says his mom had one more easy way to communicate: When she was happy, her “go-to move” was a thumbs-up, with her left hand. And he saw lots of that — even after the stroke that changed her life.
Contact Martin DeAngelis: