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A Life Well Lived – The Queen of Kiwi

We all deal with the passing of a loved one differently. For me, writing has always been cathartic. But when my 96-year-old mother, Frieda Rapoport Caplan, The Queen of Kiwi, passed away on Saturday morning, January 18, I had to take a pause from writing. But, without question, I knew what I would title this post when I had the inner strength to write it:  “A Life Well Lived.”

Within hours of an email announcement to our family and close friends of her passing, the Los Angeles Times posted an amazing obituary (LA Times Frieda Caplan) written by our friend, Gustavo Arellano.  Typical of my mom, when a first lunch meeting was set up with Gustavo many years ago, they became fast friends. They shared political beliefs, a love of food and were instantly connected. Gustavo’s email undoubtedly was in my mom’s outlook contacts … thus he heard right away.

In the weeks following her passing, it was kind of incredible to watch the press coverage. I always felt like my mom was truly an icon, and newsworthy, so it was gratifying to see that the The Washington Post (The Washington Post Frieda Caplan), The New York Times (The New York Times Frieda Caplan), The Wall Street Journal (The Wall Street Journal Frieda Caplan), and the Orange County Register (The OC Register Frieda Caplan) all felt the same way. Segments aired on NPR’s “All Things Considered” (NPR Frieda Caplan) and KNX Radio .

And how about the CBS Sunday morning segment that was filmed last November and was never shown? Once the producers of the segment got word of Mom’s passing, they immediately found a way to make sure it aired as a tribute on Sunday January 19. It was as if the universe had planned it that way (CBS Sunday Morning Remembering Frieda Caplan).

I started working with my mom on October 3, 1977, right after I graduated from college. So, basically, I spent almost every single day for 42 years working alongside my mom.

But it was outside of business, the time we spent going to conventions and trade shows, that my Mom and I developed an extra special relationship, because we both belonged to the Trusteeship, part of the International Women’s Forum (whose goal is “to link prominent women leaders from diverse fields and industries in Southern California to engage and connect”). For more than 30 years, I would drive both of us to attend events almost monthly. On our drives to these events in Los Angeles, we had a chance to recap our day at work. At the forum’s dinner we rarely sat next to each other so we could meet other people. So, on our drive home, we would talk about who we sat with and what we thought of the program.

I was always a bit jealous of my mom’s conversations, as she seemed to sit next to the MOST interesting women. I finally realized that it wasn’t that mom sat next to more interesting women. It was because she asked the best questions. She was so interested in the other person and finding out what was special about them that she extracted incredible information from each person. And because she was a voracious reader, she was always up on current events.

During our conversations on those drives home, I recall thinking, “I want to be more like her.” I want to be more interested in other people, I want to ask the best questions, I want to make other people feel like they are the most important person in the room. What I also noticed during those evening dinners we attended was that when mom was away from work, and surrounded by all these amazing women, she actually glowed. In fact, I swear that her wrinkles disappeared.

This past Saturday, we had a Celebration of Life for my mom. More than 1,000 people attended from all over the country. Family, growers, customers, employees, former employees, friends, politicians … all had become friends of Frieda. We had 15 speakers and two emcees. Afterward, we shared a veggie-centric lunch, featuring some of the discoveries made possible by The Queen of Kiwi.

We live streamed the program for those who could not attend; it’s available:  here.

Many will think that my mom’s legacy would be the more than 200 fruits and vegetables that she is credited with introducing to American consumers: sugar snap peas, purple potatoes, habanero chiles, shallots, fresh ginger, spaghetti squash, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh herbs and hothouse cucumbers, to name a few. And, of course, her most famous: kiwifruit and brown mushrooms!

But I think my mom’s legacy is really her passion about being an active citizen. On the printed program we distributed, we quoted from a speech she gave when she received her Honorary PhD from Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo in 2014:

“Never bad-mouth others, always listen to the whole story. Be a voice in your community. Be politically active, vote, speak up.”

My mom was not just my business partner. My mentor. My biggest promoter. She had become my confidant and best friend. I will miss our afternoon conversations when I called her from my car. I will miss her grilling me on my client or grower meetings or asking me probing questions about a conference I attended.

I will miss how we laughed about my mistakes, and her deep, deep caring about my personal happiness. I am especially glad she knew and approved of the love of my life.

She was the kindest, happiest person I ever knew. And now, in hindsight, I find myself doing the same things that she did in business—questioning the status quo—which years ago I found annoying. Now I find what she did daring and brilliant.

Yes, I want to be more like her.


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