Carroll woman marks 105 years with laughter


May 06, 2002|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

HELEN LORD celebrated her 105th birthday last month, and she was ready to answer the question that has been asked almost every day since she turned 100: What is your secret to such longevity?

"I don't smoke, I don't drink, and I don't run around with the boys," Lord said, joking.

That has been her stock answer for many years, but most people say that optimism, faith, strength and the love of her family have kept her moving all these years.

Many of Lord's friends and family members helped her celebrate her birthday April 25 at a luncheon at Westminster's Carroll Lutheran Village, where she lives. More than 20 family members also gathered for a brunch April 27 at a local country club.

They showered Lord with cash ($105 in singles), candy, nightgowns, and birthday cards with cats on them. (Lord loves cats and had many of her own before she moved to Carroll Lutheran Village). Many people wrote poems about her, too.

Lord also received commendations from Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff, who attended the April 25 luncheon, and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, who has known her since she campaigned for him in the 1980s. Lord received a congratulatory letter from Simmons College, too, where she earned most of her nursing credentials.

During the days of celebrations, Lord's generosity and humor were mentioned repeatedly.

Did she like the Christmas present they gave her last year - the one where they paid to have her hair done on a regular basis? No, she said. "I'd rather have had the cash."

This is a woman who fished her 90-year-old friend out of the fountain at The Mall in Columbia after she lost her balance and fell in.

"Can you imagine? Mom went in after this friend, who was almost blind. She got a gash on her head and broke her arm, but once she healed, we teased her for years," said her daughter Patricia Spicer. "We always asked her if the coins in the fountain were really worth going in after."

Lord is the kind of woman who believes that "proper" manners are important: "no burping and no bad words," she said.

"But if you tell her a joke that is not too dirty she'll like it," said daughter Bobbie Gunter.

"She is also very giving. When she lived in Walker Mews - over there near the Baltimore City and Baltimore County line - she used to take chicken soup to people in the apartments when they got sick," Gunter said. "She is always helping someone."

The years were not always easy for Lord. Her husband, William Edward Lord, died when he was 46, and she had to piece together a variety of jobs over the years to support their four children: Patricia, Bobbie, Virginia and William.

She worked for the Coast Guard, did casting and costumes for a production company, and worked as a floor manager for Sinai Hospital for 15 years, Spicer said.

"She was loved and teased everywhere she worked," Spicer said. "And she teased people right back."

Most of Lord's life is well-documented in her autobiography, Footsteps in the Sands of Time. She tapped her favorite memories for the book, and her diaries (which she started when she was 8 years old), photographs and school notes.

One picture in the autobiography is of Helen in a baby carriage watching troops head off to the Spanish-American War.

"Think of what has changed during her years - almost everything," Spicer said. "She has lived through seven wars, three generations, and so many inventions. Electricity, radios, televisions, cars, and now all the new technology. The one thing she hasn't done is sit down in front of a computer."

Helen Lord's long-term memory is sharp - she likes to name old teachers, old boyfriends, and her 12 grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

Sometimes her short-term memory lags, and lately so has her health. Recently, she wrestled with a cough but joked that of all the changes she has seen, "modern medicine" is her favorite. "I guess [I] need a little of that now," she said.

"It boggles my mind that she can still have fun," Spicer said. "Especially when we all get together to laugh and joke."

Living Treasure

West Middle School pupil Elissa Laib honors her third-grade teacher, Kristin Massicot, as her Living Treasure. She was her teacher at Mechanicsville Elementary.

"I picked Kristin for many reasons," Elissa said. "Her influence with my writing would definitely be one of them. In third grade I would write little poems and she would let me read them to class. She supported me and made me want to write more. Today I have had one of my poems published, and I owe it all to her."

Who is your Living Treasure? Brighten someone's day by submitting his or her name to Lisa Breslin, 35 Ridge Road, Westminster or 410-848-4703.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

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