ST. ALBANS — As Ester Marguerite (Carney) Marchessault looked forward to celebrating her 104th birthday she has concluded that the key to longevity is linked to a having a healthy, supportive and fun family unit, and a strong religious faith.
Born on Nov. 13, 1911, in Durand, Mich., to a father who was a general practitioner, and a mother who was a registered nurse, it just seemed natural that Marchessault, who prefers to be called Meg, would follow in their footsteps.
‘I came from a family of doctors, so it was something I felt was expected of me,” Meg said.
It was that decision that led her to a chance romance that became the love of her life.
At age 15, too young to start college, Meg went to work at a local grocery store. A year later she travelled to Detroit to register at the Providence Hospital Nursing School, only to find out she was still too young.
Disappointed, but determined, Meg attended the University of Michigan for a year, but she made the best of it by taking a fencing class and joining their club.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be allowed to take that class, but they didn’t realize I was too young,” Meg admitted.
“That was in 1929, so as you can see my mother was a pretty courageous lady,” said her son, Art.
Meg did get accepted and graduated from nursing school in 1933 to begin a 30-year career as a registered nurse.
Every day, regardless of the weather she walked to the Westchester Square Hospital where she worked in the emergency, operating and recovery rooms.
“She would always leave a little early and stopped at the St. Raymond’s Church on her way,” said Art.
“That was what I needed to do, it was important to me,” Meg said.
“It certainly helped,” she added.
The first time Meg put her nursing skills to the test in an emergency situation, was the day before her sister’s wedding. The bridegroom, Arthur Marchessault had played tennis and began to suffer the effects of heat exhaustion.
“So he almost didn’t make the wedding, but my mother rescued him, and kept an eye on him,” Art said.
Meg, who was the bridesmaid, continued to monitor her new brother-in-law’s condition, and actually offered to drive the newlyweds from the wedding in Durand to the groom’s hometown of St. Albans to celebrate their honeymoon. The groom’s brother and best man, Warren, also rode back with them.
“Believe it or not, he and my mom had just met and he asked to borrow her car to take his girlfriend out on a date,” Art said.
“But I guess I won,” Meg said.
“He figured out he liked me more,” she added. “It was automatic for me, it very well could have been what you call love at first sight.”
“So the nurse married an FBI agent, and they led a rather exciting life in New York City,” Art said.
“He worked in counter espionage, and she would go out for rides with him and sit in the car while he met his contacts,” he added.
“You see a husband and wife didn’t stand out so much, so mom was part of his cover!”
“Yes I used to go with him, and I guess it was a little dangerous, but I enjoyed it,” Meg said.
Both Meg’s brother, Edward Carney, and her brother-in-law worked for the FBI.
“We had an adventurous life together, yet we were still devoted to raising our five children Susan, Arthur, Mary, Thomas, and James,” Meg said.
“You might say we had the best of both worlds,” she added.
Meg, Warren and their family enjoyed spending summers in a cottage they bought on Hathaway Point and became great friends with the well-known Bob White, the former Bellows Free Academy coach, and his family.
“We loved to fish, and we just loved this area,” said Meg.
“In the summer of 1947 they built their retirement home right on the lake, on Bob White Circle,” Art said.
After Warren passed away at age 57, Meg and her sister, Wynn spent their winters in Florida, where Meg worked for Hospice.
“She did that for 20 years and said she decided it was time to quit because she was older than most of her patients,” Art said.
“I do think being a nurse did play a role in having such a long wonderful life,” Meg said.
“It kept me busy, and I really enjoyed what I did.”
“You know I am actually pretty healthy for my age, I really am,” she added.
“I never thought I would live in a nursing home, but it really is unbelievable here, it has become home to me,” Meg said in her room at Franklin County Rehabilitation Center.
“What’s amazing is how much she seems to enjoy the dining room set up,” Art said.
“Just seeing my mom sitting and enjoying the company of three men at her table is absolutely priceless,” he added. “What a way for a lady of her age to live!”
“I do consider myself very lucky,” Meg said.
“I could not have made it this far if I didn’t have such a wonderful family. I have my children, and my grandchildren, all of whom love me, and I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
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Ann Hawksby is a regular contributor to the Messenger and for full disclosure it should be added that she is employed as an enrichment director at the Franklin County Rehabilitation Center.