Dossier: Decisions

«Decide quickly and with your heart»

Looking back on a rich life full of important decisions, Heidi Rothen, 82, describes how she set her course through life and what she would advise young people.

Text: Katharina Rilling; Photos: Herbert Zimmermann

"Just decide! That’s what I’d advise young people today. If you’ve long been thinking about doing your driving test, just decide to do it! If you’ve started several courses of study decide on single path! Seize the reins and get on with it! It’s best not to think too long. By the time you’ve finished thinking the opportunity will be gone. Decide quickly and with your heart. That’s always been my approach. But these days people are overwhelmed by all the choices.

I myself am a farmer’s daughter As soon as I could walk I wanted to help out. When I was in Year 1 my mother said to me: 'When you get home from school, put on some water to boil and make macaroni.' So as a little girl I first learned to do things and make my own decisions. That left its mark. I realised I could do a lot, and this gave me the self-assurance I would need to make decisions later on.

Heidi Rothen can look back from retirement on a rich life full of decisions.
Waiting to see what happens was never Heidi Rothen's style. She prefers to make quick, intuitive decisions.

The fact that I still get such heartfelt feedback from people suggests that not everything I did in life was wrong. Recently I was in a shop and a man said to me that he’d always admired me for simply following through. But it sure wasn’t easy! Some of my decisions met with huge resistance. I got on people’s nerves! My God, I was labelled a junkies' friend because I gave marginalised people medical care, and I was made fun of as a carnival figure. Now it wouldn’t bother me at all. A decision has to be right in your own heart.

These days she enjoys her free time reading in her home in Hergiswil (Canton Nidwalden) - even though her advice and help are still in great demand.
Homemade good luck charms for the children in the Kinderparadies childcare centre she founded: Heidi Rothen has kept many mementos of her working life.

Naturally I also made the wrong decisions. Once a mother rang me up crying and asking for help. I put her off and told her to call later. To this day I don’t know why she needed me so urgently. I never heard from her again. That preoccupied me for a long time. But mistakes are there to be learned from: I make sure they don’t happen again."

For 33 years Heidi Rothen (now 82) held the sceptre in Lucerne City Hall. She was known as the "City Mother". She was a member of the Cantonal Council and the Grand Council. And she always also took care of minorities and those seeking help. In the 1970s she was ridiculed as a "druggies' mother" because she worked as a private individual for marginalised people. She established the Christkindl letterbox for people in need, the Sonneschin (Sunschine) foundation for cases of sexual abuse, and a childcare centre, as well as organising an organic waste collection scheme and driving with aid convoys to war zones in Yugoslavia.