Meet Bernice Madigan

Sunday, July 26

She may have been born in 1899, but Bernice Madigan says that she is still in her "second childhood." Having borne witness to the passing of a century, she celebrated her 110th birthday Saturday as the oldest living person in Massachusetts.

"I've seen everything in three generations," Madigan said. "The man on the moon... advances in sciences... I've seen every inauguration since Harding."

Madigan, who spent 90 years in the Washington, D.C., area before returning to her childhood hometown of Cheshire, drew friends and family from both the Berkshires and the Beltway to help celebrate this momentous occasion.

Her reaction to all this attention? "You know what?" she laughed. "I brought stimulus to the county."

Madigan's nephew, Bob Emerson, called his aunt "brilliant, compassionate, humble... she is a world of wonder."

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

And make no mistake -- Madigan is still a spry one. Years ago, as a secretary in the Treasury during the onset of World War I, she gleefully took the opportunity to set a million dollars of out-of-circulation bills on fire.

Even now, she's always ready for a party -- longtime friend Lois Nagle of Bel Air, Md., recalled getting an unexpected call from Madigan asking, "can you come up? I'm having a Kentucky Derby party [in Cheshire]."

Madigan has since ridden on a three-person motorcycle, and this year, party planners brought Cheshire's original fire truck -- vintage 1935 -- to give Madigan a ride.

And while Madigan was treated to a huge party catered by Boston Sea Food, and received such honors as a commendation from state Rep. Denis E. Guyer, D-Dalton, she said that one gift in particular stood out from the rest.

"Laney, my niece with whom I am living, got together a history of my life, and put it on disc," Madigan said. "Took me from the day I was born until now -- that was great."

Madigan's family said that she was one tough woman, stemming all the way back to her childhood, where she was one of only two survivors of a Spanish flu outbreak. Two years ago, Emerson thought Madigan might not survive a case of pneumonia. "I was expecting the worst," he said. "Few days later, all the sudden, she opened her eyes, said ‘I'm not ready to go yet. I want some mashed potatoes.'"

"I can't compain about anything -- I'm so lucky to be taken care of," Madigan said, as she sat next to an enormous birthday cake. "It's your attitude -- if you have a happy attitude and a good life, you're lucky."


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