- Talk about tough. Lorette Gauvin is one tough cookie, for sure! Clocking in this week at 105 years of age, she attributes her longevity to “I did what I had to do to survive,” says Lorette, also known affectionately as Memé by her family and peers.
Survive. And that she has. Meeting her now, you’d never know just how hard she had it. As she rolls through the halls of her nursing home, she bubbles with joy and inspiration; complimenting everyone who comes into her sight. “You look so pretty today. May God Bless you.” And other times, when her words escape her, she mumbles her very own unique word, MARNEY; which her family has determined is probably a cross between the two languages she speaks, French and English.
She had to be tough. Times were tough. Her family poor was poor. Born in 1913 in Sherbrooke, Canada, just outside of Montreal, Lorette was left mother-less at the age of two after cancer took her life. Lorette tells stories of how she and her four siblings were sadly split up and distributed amongst relatives. She was the only one sent to the United States; where she lived with her aunt and uncle in the Irish section of Boston. When they were able to go back to Canada to visit, the then eight-year-old had to hide bottles of liquor with her in the back seat and pretend to be sick so the border officials wouldn’t search the car and confiscate their liquor, which was banned in the US at the time.
In the 1930’s, she made her life in Boston with her first husband and had two children. Tragically, she became a single mother when her husband died. And true to her lifelong motto, she did what she had to do to survive; she worked tireless hours to feed and clothe her family, and reached out to the Catholic Church for their support. Later, she met Ernest Pierre (aka, Pepé). Ernest came with 4 children of his own, and together, they raised seven children total, with Virginia being their only biological child as a couple. Raising seven children was tough, especially trying to make ends meet, since both Ernest and Lorette had only 8th grade educations to work with. “That’s what you did to survive back then; you quit school and went to work for your family. That’s just the way it was,” Lorette has said in the past.
Lorette didn’t officially become a US citizen until she was in her 40’s. Through her many years, she has witnessed world events we’ve only read about. The Prohibition, the World Wars; and she, like others in her generation, contributed to the war effort. She was a spotter of enemy planes from her home in Connecticut. (No fancy radar systems then!) “She never spotted any, but boy if she had, her high-pitch shrill could take down any enemy plane”, laughs her daughter, Virginia Spencer, who is the owner of New Bern’s own Carolina Creations. New Bern has been Lorette’s home since 2009, after her late husband of 53 years passed away in 2002. Specifically, residing at Homeplace of New Bern.
Times weren’t always tough, though. Lorette enjoyed the many interests of her generation. Listening to musicians like Bing Crosby, Andy Williams, and Mitch Miller, to watching comedians like Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Red Skelton on TV. “Oh, and let’s not forget the 70’s M.A.S.H. show, played at full-blown volume, with her bellowing laughs that were heard around the neighborhood when we all lived in Texas,” chuckles Virginia.
Lorette loved sewing, knitting, and was always crocheting. “She cranked out some serious Raggedy Anne’s and Andy’s when they were popular 40 years ago. We all still have ours!” And she has always enjoyed playing cards. “Even now, she can’t be beat in a game of gin rummy; still sharp as a tack,” Virginia says.
Summarizing a century (plus) years of someone’s life is no easy task. It’s nearly impossible to list each and every accomplishment (much less remember all the names of her 17 grandchildren and numerous great-grands) but at the end of the day, we celebrate Lorette Gauvin’s amazing life as a whole, and envy the strength of a woman who has survived long enough to turn 105. One.hundred.and.five. Can we all just let that sink in for a bit? Let’s give a shout out to Meme!
Join in the Celebration on September 22nd at 2 p.m. in the Homeplace of New Bern, 1309 McCarthy Blvd. The Southern Gentlemen Barbershop Chorus will be performing, and light snacks and cake will be served.
Written by: Lynn Bumer (Granddaughter)
Submitted by: Patricia Bagwell (Granddaughter)