Spa guru Deborah Szekely will keynote a symposium devoted to new trends in wellness sponsored by the Washington Spa Alliance at The Watergate Hotel on March 20.
Turning 95 on May 3, Szekely practices what she preaches. Her daily exercise regimen is supplemented by vitamins, plus a little something for her thyroid and a B12 shot every month. Now living in San Diego, CA, she shows no sign of slowing down. Currently devoting her energy to The Museum of New Americans, she also heads “Wellness Warriors” promoting healthy lifestyles.
As honorary chair of the Washington Spa Alliance (WSPA), Szekely inspired networking and educational programs that have brought together leaders of the spa and wellness industries. Returning for the annual WSPA forum, she plans to call for action on health education.
Szekely’s road to becoming a fitness and spa guru began when she was just 17. Her parents, strict vegetarians, left Brooklyn during the Depression to attend a health retreat in Tahiti run by Hungarian philosopher Edmund Szekely. From handling administrative matters, young Deborah became his wife. Forced to leave the U.S. because of her husband's immigration status (he fled Nazi persecution), they acquired land and citizenship in Mexico, opened Rancho La Puerta in 1940.
Part spa, part lifestyle education center, Rancho La Puerta remains in the family. Run by her daughter, Sarah Livia Brightwood, the 4,000-acre spread hosts week-long retreats year-round, has organic gardens and a culinary center staffed by 700 Mexican employees.
Szekely found a new chapter in her life in public service in Washington. In 1984, President Reagan appointed her president of the Inter-American Foundation (IAF), an independent agency of the U.S. government which supports grassroots development in Latin America and the Caribbean. She also conceived and launched “Setting Course: A Congressional Management Guide,” which is now in its 15th edition, published by The Congressional Foundation.
At her residence in Georgetown, Szekely fostered plans for the International Spa Association, launched in 1990. The Huffington Post dubbed her “Spa Godmother.”
As the Rancho La Puerta website notes, Edmund and Deborah Szekely were “undocumented aliens” when they arrived in Mexico — one of the reasons why she has championed immigrant rights and cross-border cultural and environmental programs throughout her life.
Georgetowners who know her well say that on the occasion of her 85th birthday, she announced that she intended to only age one year in the next five. By all accounts, she aced it.