BANGOR, Maine — Phyllis Coffin, who turned 103 on Saturday, broke into song during her birthday party.
“If you get her started on one song, she sings and sings,” Joan Hileman, a caregiver from A Loving Touch of Bangor, said of the centenarian.
Phyllis Turcotte was born in Boston on Jan. 3, 1906, and was a nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital in her earlier days. She moved to Maine after meeting and marrying Dr. Silas Coffin, a physician from Bar Harbor.
Relatives from all over the state, friends and caregivers donned colorful Hawaiian leis for the birthday party at her Bangor home. Making an appearance were two grandchildren, a great-grandchild and a son-in-law.
Other relatives called to wish Coffin a happy birthday, including grandson Silas Deroma of Los Alamos, N.M. Grandson Seth Libby, 42, of Bar Harbor held the phone for his “Mammy” during the calls.
He said his grandmother’s “French-Canadian tenacity” and her determination are reasons she has lived so long.
“Right up until the time she was 80, she would go down [to a family farm] and clean brush,” he said. “It’s all in the genes. She’s outlived all of her kids” and her husband.
There are many things that his grandmother has taught him, but her lessons on table manners stick out as a strong memory, Libby said.
“It was reinforced,” he said, a huge smile across his face. “That butter knife flew like a sword.”
Coffin, who wore a pink suit for her birthday, also was adorned with a lei and a silver-colored tiara that matched her hair. She sat in a chair and at first didn’t know why people were rolling into her home.
“My birthday isn’t until January,” she said to Hileman when she first arrived.
After the caregiver explained to her that it was her birthday, Coffin smiled and said simply, “Thank you.”
“She stopped celebrating 10 years ago,” her grandson said.
Neighbor Arlene Haskell added that last year, when Coffin was 102, “she wouldn’t open her presents.”
Long lives run in the family, said Jane Newell, a former caregiver for A Loving Touch, who took care of Coffin for nearly a decade when she was in her 90s.
“Phyllis’ mom was in her late 90s when she died,” she said. “She’s French. She always had a tremendous sense of humor. She could crack you up at any time.
“Maybe that’s a secret to longevity,” Newell said. “The genes [are] number one and how you treat your body is number two.”
The Coffins had two daughters, Nancy and Susan, whom everyone called “Sue-Key,” and Phyllis has outlived both and her husband, who died in 1963. She never remarried, and her Bangor home is decorated with several black-and-white photos of him.
Color pictures of smiling relatives cover almost all of the surfaces in her living room. The attire and hairstyles in the pictures indicate the many decades in which the photos were taken.
Coffin was born just months before Albert Einstein introduced his theory of relativity and San Francisco was hit with the massive earthquake that killed more than 3,000 people. Both occurred in April 1906.
Theodore Roosevelt was president when she was born, and 17 others have served in the post in her lifetime, with the 18th set to take his oath of office later this month.
To keep up with current events, Coffin reads the Bangor Daily News every day, said caregiver Victoria Greeley, owner of A Loving Touch. The Bangor business has taken care of Coffin for 15 years, she said.
With an entertainer playing music in the background and people socializing, it was hard to hear what song Coffin was singing Saturday, but it was not hard to see the smile on her face or her eyes lighting up with joy.
“She loves to sing,” Newell said.