Bernice Madigan, fifth-oldest person in the world, dies at 115


Photo Gallery | Bernice Madigan of Cheshire

Related | Bernice Madigan's obituary

CHESHIRE >> Town, county and state lost their oldest resident, Bernice Emerson Madigan, who died early Saturday morning. At 115 years, 163 days old, Madigan was the fifth-oldest person in the world.

Madigan, better known as "Bennie" or "Aunt Bennie," born July 24, 1899, lived in three different centuries, predated the Model T and yet managed a social media presence on Twitter and Facebook.

Born in West Springfield, Madigan's family moved to Cheshire in 1906. She graduated Adams High School in 1918 and left home bound for Silver Springs, Md., her home for 90 years. Love came into her life in 1925, when she wed Paul Madigan. The two had no children and were married more than 50 years until his death in 1976.

A secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department in her career, Madigan retired on disability in 1941 after 23 years of service.

In 2007, Madigan returned to Cheshire, where she spent most of her remaining years living at Rolling Acres Farm with help from relatives Elaine Daniels, Marilyn Martin and Robert Emerson and other aides.

Cheshire Select Board Chair Carol Francesconi, who spent years happily updating any inquirer on Madigan's health during public meetings, offered "sympathy to the family" on Saturday.

"The town of Cheshire is sad to hear we've lost our oldest and most famous resident," Francesconi said. "Over the years, [Madigan's] made many friends and has always been committed to the town. We'll miss her."

Madigan spent time at Williamstown Commons Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on-and-off for the last several years. She suffered some illnesses, like pneumonia.

Her younger siblings, Marilyn and Roy Emerson, predeceased her.

Madigan had expressed the goal of living to be the oldest person alive. That title belongs to Japan's Misao Okawa, who is 116. Only 35 people have been verified as living to 115.

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Madigan's recent birthday celebrations usually topped 100 guests, including friends and family from Maryland and Virginia.

"You know what? I brought stimulus to the county," she told the Eagle in 2009.

Madigan's nephew, Bob Emerson, also shared some of her secrets to longevity with the paper.

"She said that she's lived this long because of two things — a glass of wine at every meal, and no children," Emerson said. "No pills, no nothing — not even a vitamin."

Family and friends continually marveled at Madigan's mental acuity and level of activity as a supercentenarian.

Past the age of 100, she would daily walk the long driveway at the farm, volunteer at nursing homes, play piano, read books and newspapers and recount memories — like the inauguration of Warren G. Harding, which she attended, or the day she met her husband.

Scientists with the Archon Genomics X Prize competition in 2012 mapped Madigan's genome searching for keys to longevity and National Geographic featured her in a recent online article and series of photographs published in July, 2014.

"That's what they're trying to find out: What did I do that prolonged my life?" she told the magazine. "I don't know it's no different from anybody else's."

She added, "I don't feel a bit older than I did at 100."

Apart from her best known piece of health advice — steering clear of medicine and vitamins — Madigan recommended eating a hot meal every morning for breakfast, keeping oneself active and in the company of younger people and always looking to the days ahead, not those gone by.

A recent Facebook post by Madigan showed the 115-year-old in a T-shirt bearing a caption which she deemed her "new motto": "I intend to live forever, so far, so good."

"It's your attitude," Madigan told The Eagle in 2009, "If you have a happy attitude and a good life, you're lucky."


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