Bernice Madigan, State's Oldest Citizen, Dies at 115
|Bernice 'Aunt Bennie' Madigan died Jan. 3 at age 115.|
CHESHIRE, Mass. — The state's oldest citizen and the fifth-oldest person in the world died early Saturday morning.
Bernice Emerson Madigan was 115 years, 163 days, old.
Arrangements were being made at Dery Funeral Home.
Affectionately called "Aunt Bennie," she became something of a local celebrity when she returned in 2007 to her hometown. She was grand marshal of the Memorial Day parade and the recipient of local and state proclamations and presidential letters, and her annual birthday parties drew old and new friends together.
She appeared in numerous media over the past few years, including in a news feature on ABC and a belated notice in National Geographic.
Despite being born in horse-and-carriage days, Madigan had a presence on Facebook and Twitter (with help from her Daniels relatives). One of her recent Facebook posts features her in a T-shirt that says "I intend to live forever — So far, so good."
She often credited her long life to not having children — "no muss, no fuss," she would laugh.
Madigan did, however, have a large "family" made up of longtime neighbors from her Maryland home, hers and her late husband's relatives and her adoption by the Cheshire community.
Madigan had at one time been the fourth oldest person in the world and had set a goal to be No. 1. Misao Okawa of Japan, born nearly year before Madigan, continues to hold the record at age 116. She had a long past but she was very much in the present and beyond.
Her niece, Elaine Emerson Daniels, frequently referred to her endurance..
"She's like the Energizer bunny," Daniels has said. "She just keeps on going."
A distant relative and radio interviewer summed her up: "She's forward looking."
Born in West Springfield in 1899, Madigan was at least 10 years older than her siblings Muriel Emerson Andrews and Roy Emerson; both predeceased her.
She spent her childhood in Cheshire and graduated from the former Adams High School. She left for Washington, D.C., at the age of 18 to help with the war effort — for World War I. She lived in the D.C. area for the next 90 years.
|Madigan the day after Christmas.|
Madigan said it was "love at first sight" when she met Paul Madigan. They married in 1925 and spent 50 years together until his death in 1976.
She stayed in their home in Silver Springs, Md., until returning to Cheshire to live with her niece in late 2007.
Active and independent, she'd volunteered at a nursing home well past her century mark and played the piano, did puzzles and read the Washington Post until recently. Confessing an occasional need for speed, Madigan had happily hopped aboard snowmobiles, police cruisers and fire engines.
She had seen a lot during her long life, including the inauguration of 16 presidents, many in person. A lifelong Republican, she'd liked Ronald Reagan but called Dwight D. Eisenhower her hero. She remembered being "tickled pink" when the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote passed — but had to wait another 17 years before casting a ballot because D.C. residents couldn't vote.
She'd first worked at what would become U.S. Veterans Affairs then at the U.S. Treasury, retiring as an executive secretary. She told a class of Lee Middle School students how she once threw $2 million away — tossed into the Treasury's macerator with a Secret Service agent as escort.
Madigan kept a cheerful and positive attitude even as she became more fragile over the past couple years. A fall and bouts with pneumonia had her in and out of the hospital and nursing homes, but she remained sharp as ever.
She'd been at Williamstown Commons over the holidays but in her annual Christmas letter to friends had expressed the hope of returning to her home at Rolling Acres Farm soon.
Madigan passed away peacefully in her sleep at 2 a.m. on Saturday.
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