Anita and Richard Hoag.

I’ve known Anita Hoag for several years, but I didn’t know much about how she became who she is. When we recently spoke, Hoag said she has thought a lot about who her mother was—and explained what led to her mother’s unhappiness.

“I had no idea how hard she worked and struggled,” Hoag says. “I carry her sadness.”

Hoag, 77, who now calls Rancho Mirage home, was born in West Orange, N.J. Her family moved to a small area called Warren when Hoag was age 6.

“It had been my dad’s dream to live on a farm,” she says, “and he and my uncle bought some property. We didn’t really farm, except for our own food. It wasn’t much of an area then. There was one small grocery store and little else. It felt like a really backwoods place.

“He moved my mom there away from her family and friends. He was a mason—a stone contractor—and he built our house. I can remember her hanging laundry on a clothesline in freezing weather. She was unhappy.

“I had an older brother, and my mother almost died giving birth to him. Then I was premature, only four pounds at birth. I think that’s why I was never excited about having kids.

“My mom had been a legal secretary before she got married. … Mom was devoted to my dad. He built her dream house, but he was forced to sell it. We then lived in New York with my mom’s mother for a while. My father was a loving and gentle man, but he was also passive-aggressive—he wouldn’t show his anger or frustration, but it was there. I remember riding in the car, with him lecturing me to never procrastinate, but I do. To this day, I work better with a deadline.”

Hoag says she wanted to become a doctor after her appendix was removed when she was 6.

“But then when I was in junior high school, I had just come back after having gone into New York City on the bus. When I got into the car, I saw my brother’s jeans and shirt were rolled up on the back seat. When I asked what had happened, they said, ‘He shot himself in the knee.’ He had been target-shooting and had an accident. When we visited him in the hospital, I saw the care he was getting, and I thought to myself, ‘I could do this’—the nursing part.”

Hoag’s mother went back to work as a secretary while Hoag was in high school.

“Richard, without a doubt, has been the greatest influence in my life. He taught me what it meant to be proactive. Procrastination is still my worst trait, so I write everything in my calendar and plan out my time.”

Anita hoag, on her husband, richard

“She was answering phones on one of those machines like what Lily Tomlin used in her act. Mom loved it, and said she could afford to help me get an education,” Hoag says.

It turns out that “help” was a key word. “After I graduated high school, I decided to go to nursing school in New Jersey since I couldn’t afford college. I remember sitting at the kitchen table with my mom, and she said, ‘Who do you think is going to pay for this?’ I admit I hadn’t thought about it. After only three months in nursing school, I went to the person in charge and asked for a scholarship—and I got it. I didn’t want my mom to have to keep working, especially when she finally had the chance to do for herself.

“I graduated as a registered nurse; then I moved to New York City with two roommates and worked at a hospital. I disliked it immensely. As it turned out, I married a patient.”

Her husband worked in sales promotion for an insurance company at the time, but he had come from California and was a dedicated surfer. “I fell madly in love with the guy,” says Hoag. “We opened together the first competition surfing magazine in New York. But he hated New York and wanted to move to Hawaii, where he had spent time surfing. He told me, ‘Hawaii is where you can be anyone and anything you want to be. If you don’t want to be a nurse, be something else.’ That move changed my life.” The marriage lasted eight years.

Hoag began working at Liberty House, a large retail store, and became their cosmetics buyer, traveling across the country. In the course of her travels, she met Richard Hoag, who worked for Max Factor and Company.

“I didn’t really know what I was doing at that point, and he offered to teach me about the cosmetics business. He became my mentor,” Hoag says.

She eventually got an offer from Max Factor to work exclusively for them, and moved to Los Angeles in 1974. In 1977, she went to work as a manager for The Broadway, a Los Angeles-based department store chain.

In 1980, she married Richard Hoag, who had gone through a divorce. They moved to the Coachella Valley in 1989 from Newport Beach. They have now been together for 41 years.

After Richard had a stroke, Hoag was able to tap into her nursing training.

“The best decision I ever made,” says Hoag, “was moving to Hawaii. That did totally change my life. Richard, without a doubt, has been the greatest influence in my life. He taught me what it meant to be proactive. Procrastination is still my worst trait, so I write everything in my calendar and plan out my time.

“My career turned out to be wonderful. I felt so confident and accomplished.”

Hoag has become involved locally with the Democrats of the Desert.

“It’s wonderful to be around like-minded people, especially when I remember having loud arguments with my dad about Richard Nixon,” she says. “I’ve made lots of friendships here, and being with friends is what I’ve missed most during the pandemic.

“If I were going to identify one of the most important influencers in my life, it would be my Aunt Donna. She showed me what it meant to be happy and to laugh out loud. It makes me sad now to feel that I didn’t do enough to make my mother happy. I look back now and have a different understanding of her.”

Anita Hoag has built a life that’s very different from her mother’s life—and her understanding of who her mother was as a person has remained key to her understanding of herself.

Anita Rufus

Anita Rufus is an award-winning columnist and talk radio host, known as “The Lovable Liberal.” She has a law degree, a master’s in education, and was a business executive before committing herself...