LEE — Marie Toole is a survivor.
The matriarch of nine children, 19 grandchildren and soon 19 great-grandchildren has endured two open-heart surgeries and the Great New England Hurricane of 1938.
Toole was working on the second floor of a downtown office building in her hometown of Providence, R.I., when the region's deadliest and most destructive storm of the 20th century slammed the Northeast. Rhode Island sustained the brunt of the storm; most of the 600 lives the storm claimed were in the Ocean State.
"I kept seeing water flowing down the street and saw it rise to the top of the first floor," she recalled to an Eagle reporter.
Toole and several co-workers escaped the flooding, allowing her a year later to meet the man she would help raise one of the town's most successful families.
On Saturday, surviving family members, friends and well-wishers will gather at the Locker Room Sports Bar on Main Street to celebrate Toole's 100th birthday. The open house event is from 1-3 p.m.
In remarkably good health, Toole resembles someone in her mid-80s.
"I don't look , but I feel it," she says with a smile.
Toole was born on March 26, 1916, in Providence where she was a youth tennis champion. "Gigi," as she's known to her great-grandchildren, met her future husband Lawrence Toole on a visit to the Berkshires and on Oct. 4, 1941 — two months before the U.S. entered World War II — they married.
"[Larry] was the first guy my father liked," she said.
Prior to Mr. Toole's service in the Army during WWII, he formed Toole Insurance, one of Lee's oldest continuous businesses headed up now by son John Toole.
The Tooles produced five boys and four girls, fulfilling Mrs. Toole's goal of having a large family. She is an only child.
"I liked children and have a great time with them," she said. "I was interested in everything my kids did — it kept me going."
Mrs. Toole knew how to steer her children down the right path, according to John Toole.
"My mom provided great guidance," he said. "She was a good trainer who knew enough to take the hands of the bike and let us peddle."
Mrs. Toole is an avid fan of the Boston Celtics, Red Sox and Boston Red Sox admitting she never thought she would see the latter win another World Series in her lifetime. She was 2 years old when the Sox were last champions in 1918; the team ended its 86-year World Series drought in 2004.
The Toole clan tried keeping Saturday's shindig a secret, but John Toole said that proved impossible. Besides, no Toole celebration is complete without mom.
"She has a very positive outlook on life and she's more fun than most of my friends — the life of the party," he said.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413 496-6233.