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The Godmother of Wellness On Pioneering Healing and the Future Health of the Planet

By October 29, 2013August 7th, 202311 Comments

After listening to this interview, you will never again rely on advancing age as an excuse for anything.

Meet the unique force of nature known as  Deborah Szekely  — in so many ways, the Godmother of the Wellness Revolution, but also a tireless activist, philanthropist, writer, and friend of Presidents and Hollywood elite.  At 91 years young, Deborah exudes the energy of someone 60 years her junior.  In fact, I have met few people in my life that could match the drive, vision, commitment and boundless vitality she persistently demonstrates when it comes to improving the health and wellness of people across the globe.

Let me paint the picture.  Without Deborah, there is no Jack LaLanne.  No 24-Hour Fitness, Gold’s Gym, Equinox or Soul Cycle, let alone Canyon Ranch or Burke Williams day spas.  In many ways, so much of what we take for granted as part of our daily health and fitness lifestyle experience can be specifically tracked back to the work Deborah and her husband Edmond started in the tiny village of Tecate, Mexico in 1940.

Hailing from Brooklyn by way of Eastern Europe, Deborah’s mother was a progressive raw foodist fruitarian and vice president of the New York Vegetarian Society.  When the Great Depression hit, Deborah’s garment business father moved the family to Tahiti, the land of abundant fruit, to live closer to nature — and persistently ahead of the curve.  It’s there that they met Edmond Szekely, a prophetic, highly educated and charismatic professor and author of Hungarian origin (then Transylvania) & Jewish heritage prone to long pontifications on the virtues of living in close connection with one’s natural environment.

In her late teens, Deborah became Edmond’s secretary and ultimately his bride.  They later settled in Los Angeles, but with World War II on the horizon and Edmond fearing deportation back to Eastern Europe due to citizenship issues, they decamped to Tecate, about an hour’s drive from San Diego just over the Mexican border.

Domiciled in a tiny cabin on a vast parcel of land at the base of a gorgeous mountain, in 1940 Edmond and Deborah opened their doors to the outside world — a summer camp they called Rancho La Puerta  where visitors could convene for $17.50 per week, provided they brought their own tent.  During the summer months, Edmond would lecture to groups on a number of topics, including the philosophy of The Essenes ; something he dubbed Biogenic Living; the ills of smoking (revolutionary at the time); and the virtues of a healthy diet, exercise and living close to nature.

Bear in mind, this was decades before any of these subjects were in vogue.  Not to beat a dead horse, but to say Edmond and Deborah were a step ahead is an understatement.

Not enough? In his downtime, Edmond wrote books — over 80 titles all told — and printed them with his own printing press.

Word got out about the interesting happenings of Rancho La Puerta.  Hollywood took notice, and soon people like Burt Lancaster, Kim Novak, William Holden, and even Aldous Huxley could be found spending time at the Ranch.  The Ranch quickly grew, and in later years, Rancho has hosted the likes of Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Streisand, Martha Stewart and Arianna Huffington.

The rest is history.  In it’s 73rd year, Rancho La Puerta set the stage for every wellness trend, spa and movement that would follow.  Today the center boasts some of the best wellness programs, most beautiful facilities, finest food and appointed terrain in the world, attracting a vast and loyal global following of repeat clientele.

Still not enough? Deborah ran for Congress.  Although she didn’t win, she still found herself in Washington, D.C. for 17 years as President of the  Inter-American Foundation  (IAF), an independent foreign assistance agency of the United States government which furthers grassroots development by awarding grants directly to the organized poor in Latin America, Caribbean, and the groups that support their efforts.

And yet she still is far from done.  At 91, her latest of many passion projects is growing a 501(c)(4) health and wellness focused Super PAC lobbying group to confront and combat big food, agricultural and pharmaceutical companies at the federal and state legislative level — a project she founded called  Wellness Warrior.

All told, it’s almost impossible to underestimate the impact Deborah has had on the wellness movement.  We all owe her an incredible debt of gratitude for the work to which she has devoted her life.  And it was an honor to spend a few hours getting to know her better during our recent stay at Rancho.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

NOTE: The audio for this interview is far from stellar.  Although I have worked out the production quality on the studio, I am still having some issues with my travel set up.  I apologize and hope it’s not overly distracting.  As always, I will continue to do better.

Finally – enjoying the music cues on the show? Thanks my 18-year old son Tyler Piatt — not only did he produce and edit today’s show, he wrote, arranged and performed all the music as well.  Thanks Tyler!


*Disclosure: Books and products denoted with an asterisk are hyperlinked to an affiliate program. We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.


  • Mel says:

    Seems like a great podcast, but I really could not hear it. 🙁

  • Jim Newell says:

    BEAUTIFUL! Thanks Rich. Thanks Julie. And a special thanks to Deborah.

  • richroll66 says:

    Hi Mel – thanks for the feedback. I actually worked on the audio file after posting it to boost her levels so youy could hear her better and last night uploaded a new version – so if you refresh your browser or iTunes and re-download or stream, there is a better version where she is more audible. Still not perfect but much better. Apologies for the sound issues – you were not the only one letting me know about this. Striving to do better next time – still dialing in my travel recording equipment and this one was tough as she is soft spoken and couldnt get her to speak close enough to the mic.

  • Tyler Wallace says:

    Thanks Rich, the audio turned out great. Only a few moments were hard for me to hear. This was another inspiring podcast

  • Karen says:

    Thank you for a wonderful interview with this amazing woman!

  • JasonRH says:

    The audio file definitely improved after the fixes, thanks for doing that. An amazing guest and an inspiring woman. Just placed an order for one of her husband’s books. It is insane how ahead of the time they were. I feel like you really only got to dig in during the last half hour or so. Probably could have gone on for hours. It was a great discussion, but my one point of feedback might be to get deeper into the discussion earlier in the podcast, especially since she is probably tough to get back on for future episodes.

  • albert says:

    Wow. This podcast reminded me once again what this all really is about. I’m still resonating with some of those heart-felt-loving-caring words spoken.. Thanks, Rich, for making these amazing interviews, I strongly feel you are doing something big here.

    PS: the interview with Jeff was pure gold too. reading to his book now (amazon banner taken care of :))

    PPS: please don’t stop :)) as Moby says, no one can stop us now, cause we are all made of stars… :))

  • Maggie says:

    What an amazing woman. Thank you so much for bringing her onto my radar. I love it. Your podcast is my fave Rich. So damn good. Thank you for all you’re doing for us. Namaste

  • Monique says:

    Oh how I love her! Thanks for another great introduction, Rich!

  • renee says:

    I’m a mom with 4 kids! I love this podcast!

  • minni says:

    And yet her son died at age 44 from melanoma cancer. She sounds like an amazing woman but some people live long and some don’t, no matter what their diet.

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