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FALMOUTH — In more than a century of life, Florence McCann has enjoyed a front-row seat to history and witnessed the world change many times.
From humble beginnings in a home that had no electricity or running water, to operating a cell phone today, McCann has seen it all.
Surrounded by her two children, four grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, McCann, the town’s oldest resident, recently celebrated her 105th birthday with a surprise party at the Falmouth Congregational Church.
Born on Nov. 24, 1911, McCann has lived through two world wars, the culmination of the fight for a woman’s right to vote, and the inauguration of 17 presidents. The year she was born also saw the first nonstop flight from London to Paris, which took nearly four hours, and the groundbreaking for Fenway Park, still the home of the Boston Red Sox.
Except for a brief period when she was first married, McCann has lived her entire life in Falmouth, in neighborhoods not far from Town Hall. Still active with an astounding memory, McCann continues to tend a vegetable garden and her beloved rose garden. Her favorite rose, she said, is the double delight.
McCann lives with her younger daughter, Jeaneen Coleman, and her husband, Robbie, but her older daughter, Maureen Grubb, and her husband, Charles, also live close by, as do most of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Coleman said having the great-grandchildren coming in and out at all times of the day helps to keep her mother stimulated, which is “good for her mind. We have a routine and I keep her moving; that’s the real key,” Coleman said. “We get a lot of action with the great-grandchildren.”
In addition to gardening, McCann enjoys word puzzles and playing the piano, which she can play by ear, Coleman said. She also reads the newspaper every day, as well as several different financial magazines. McCann is very much looking forward to Christmas, has made out her list and has already purchased some gifts.
McCann said family members were “sneaky” when they planned the surprise party, adding they were entirely successful in pulling the wool over her eyes. What she most enjoyed was “seeing people I hadn’t seen in years,” including friends and family from as far away as Florida and Tennessee.
McCann said the cake was a “big one” and Coleman said there were 105 candles on it, but her mother was not asked to blow them out.
She will spend the winter in Florida with the Grubbs, but will not depart until after the holidays. McCann was married on Christmas Eve, and said this season of the year has always been very special to her. She was married in 1935 to Harvey McCann, another Falmouth native. He died in 1994, after nearly 60 years of marriage.
McCann is also the holder of Falmouth’s Boston Post Cane, which is traditionally presented to the oldest person in the community. She received it three years ago, when she turned 102, and hopes to hold onto it for many years to come.
Her early life was a hard one.
McCann’s father, Edward Winslow, a station agent for the Maine Central Railroad, was murdered when she was just 4 years old.
Winslow was slain after being asked by his bosses to jump on a hand cart and follow a pair of suspected thieves who had fled down the railroad tracks. Winslow pursued the criminals – who were also operating a hand cart – from Falmouth to Portland.
When the thieves reached North Deering they left the tracks and Winslow followed them into the fields. He was carrying a revolver and shot it into the air while shouting at the thieves to stop. That’s when one of them turned and shot Winslow, killing him.
McCann, who has attended the Falmouth Congregational Church her entire life, said her father’s murder was tough on the whole family, but particularly her mother – not only from the loss of her husband, but from the loss of his income. The family’s faith helped pull them through, McCann said.
McCann remembers attending church with her grandmother, who was 103 when she died, and being driven to church in a horse and buggy owned by her grandfather. McCann said the family didn’t get a car until she was in her teens and her mother never had a telephone, even after it became a common household item.
McCann attended Portland’s Deering High School and graduated in 1930. She then attended the now-defunct Shaw’s Business College, where she learned bookkeeping. McCann worked as a bookkeeper before her marriage and for a year afterward.
When her daughter Maureen was born, McCann stopped working outside the home. But in order to supplement her family’s income, she operated a chicken farm, selling eggs and eventually caring for as many as 2,500 chickens.
Coleman remembers that she and her sister were involved in every aspect of the chicken business, which is why, she said, she’s not too fond of chickens today.
Harvey McCann started out as a mechanic and then got into the wholesale meat business. After managing several local warehouses, he started his own business, H.E. McCann Inc. in Auburn. McCann remembers when her husband was alive, they always had meat on the table – a luxury she never had growing up.
McCann said she’s voted in every election since she was old enough, and has been a Republican all her life. However, this past election season “didn’t sit well” and that’s why she has sworn off Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor,” even though it’s been her favorite TV show for years.
While McCann bemoans what she calls a “lack of morals and no respect” these days, for the most part she believes the advancements in society, particularly in technology and medicine, have been for the good.
When asked if she could ever have imagined a hand-held device that could instantly connect people across the globe to each other, McCann said she could not. She said her grandfather would have thought putting a man on the moon was impossible, and much has changed even since that accomplishment.
In addition to her grandmother’s longevity, McCann also had a cousin who lived to be 107. But Coleman said what keeps her mother so much in the here and now is her spunky approach to life.
“The Winslows always had a lot of spunk,” she said – to which McCann agreed with a laugh.
Florence McCann recently celebrated her 105th birthday. A native of Falmouth, she’s the holder of the town’s Boston Post Cane.
Jeaneen Coleman, left, says her mother, Florence McCann, 105, has a lot of spunk, which is one reason she’s still so active and involved in the life of her family and church.