To make her 75th birthday special, Peggie Tomeo tried something new.
She went parasailing, heading up in the air in a parachute pulled over the ocean by a speeding boat. That became a Tomeo tradition — she celebrated every birthday in the parachute until she turned 90, mostly riding with one of her 10 grandchildren.
Tomeo, of Ocean City, died last month. She was 93, and her family had stopped her parasailing adventures after she hit 90 because of worries about her health. But on her next birthday, they started a new tradition: They took her out dancing to a couple of her favorite spots, where she also enjoyed her favorite cocktail. In other words, she went bar-hopping for her 91st birthday.
Peggy Richards, 56, of Somers Point, adopted her mother’s nickname, if not the same spelling. But she didn’t inherit her mom’s sense of adventure, although Richards’ two children, Jimmie and Lauren, were two of their grandmom’s favorite parasailing partners, as the only grandchildren who grew up in South Jersey.
Still, Richards — the third of four children of Peggie and the late Ed Tomeo — would go along for the boat ride with Ocean City Parasail most years. And for her mom, parasailing was just the start of the birthday routine.
Back on dry land, the family would go out for ice cream, and then they’d ride the roller coaster together at Gillian’s Wonderland Pier on Ocean City’s Boardwalk.
“But she would do the roller coasters all the time if she had the chance,” Richards adds.
Lauren Richards, of Ventnor, says her “Nana” didn’t just stick to local thrill rides. A few years ago, Lauren remembers Tomeo shocking people at Walt Disney World by riding and loving the “Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster” — which goes from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds.
“People were asking if she was all right, would she have a heart attack. Nana just said, ‘Stop,’” Lauren recalls. “She was completely not your typical grandmom.”
But life wasn’t just an amusement park for Tomeo. She worked until she was 89, and her work ethic keeping the office files amazed the staff at South Jersey ENT Surgical Associates in Linwood, says Sheryl Jordan, the office manager.
“If I could duplicate her, it would be wonderful,” Jordan says.
In June, Tomeo went to Wildwood with Lauren to dance on her granddaughter’s 23rd birthday. She would have danced again on her own birthday, but she fell and broke her hip about a month before it. After that, her health deteriorated quickly, and she died a few days before she would have turned 94.
Still, her family celebrated the day for her. Just two days before her funeral, the Tomeo clan got together to go parasailing, have ice cream, and ride Peggie’s favorite roller coaster.
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