Source: The Independent

Party Time As Matriarch Hits 100

by Rick Murphy

November 28, 2012

When Marjorie Cummings was born, William Howard Taft was President, Annie Oakley was alive, and World War I hadn’t begun yet.

She’s endured seven wars, has seen 16 Presidents come and go, and seen the unthinkable – a man on the moon. After all, commercial airplanes didn’t even exist in 1912.

How’s the Noyac matriarch doing these days? Just fine, thank you. In fact, she was the life of the party when her family gathered on November 11 -- some from as far away as China -- to pay homage to Marjorie Cummings Byrnes in honor of her 100th birthday.

To say she is sharp as a tack is an understatement. “She watches ‘Jeopardy’ every night. She does the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle,” noted Margie Byrnes-Meighan, her daughter. “She still plays bridge.”

About 100 people gathered at St. Andrews Parish Center for the event. “Mom declined to use her wheelchair . . . she walked up the steps to the church with her walker.”

In 1956 Marge came with her husband Jim Byrnes and their four children to Sag Harbor as summer residents. They built their own home in Northampton Colony in 1964 and eventually retired there in 1976.

“Her father’s family left England in the early 1600s and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to New England. Her mother’s family left Germany in the middle 1800s for New Orleans, sailed up the Mississippi to Illinois, and then traveled by land to a farming community in Minnesota,” Rosemary Byrnes-Doyle, another daughter, related.

Marge was born in Viking, North Dakota, where her father was a railroad station master, started school in Minneapolis and then moved to Cassadega, Chautauqua County in western New York on Lake Erie where her paternal grandparents lived. After she graduated from high school in nearby Fredonia, N.Y., in the middle of the Great Depression, she followed her ancestors by taking a risk and hopped a bus for the 500-mile ride to New York City where she entered St. John’s Nursing School in Queens. She was working as a registered nurse at Physician’s Hospital in Jackson Heights when she met Jim Byrnes, whom she married in 1938.

Shortly after World War II ended, Marge and Jim moved to Pelham Manor, New York, where they raised their four children and enjoyed summers in Sag Harbor. The youngest of their four children, Margie Meighan, lives in North Haven.

Marge has been there ever since (her husband passed in 2004). Doyle said the family attributes her mother’s longevity “to her smile, her willingness to take a risk and hop a bus, and staying in her own home with frequent visits by her four children, 12 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.” 

“It’s been a blessing,” Meighan said of her mother’s long life. “She’s good. She loves her vodka martini, she has an iPad, and she Skypes with my sister, who lives in China.”

One of Marge’s serious ailments of note was a heart attack she suffered 11 years ago, when she was taking care of her ill husband. Meighan, the manager of the East Hampton branch of Bridgehampton National Bank, recalled, “She called me at the bank, which she hardly ever does. She said, ‘I’m having a heart attack. Find someone to take care of your father and call an ambulance.’” When the ambulance arrived she was calmly sitting in her vestibule with all of her medical records, waiting to go to the hospital.

Marge is an avid reader -- she wears reading glasses when she does -- and has been to China for a couple of visits. She arises about 8 AM, goes to bed around 10 PM, and eats “pretty much everything,” said Meighan, including fruit and cereal for breakfast. She was a social cigarette smoker back in the day but kicked the habit years ago.

The celebration began with 11:30 AM Mass at St. Andrew’s Church in Sag Harbor. Immediately following the Mass guests gathered at St. Andrew’s Parish Center. The Center was decorated with 100 balloons and each table was adorned with a bouquet of -- not flowers, but photos of Marge and her family and friends over the years. Each person at the party was represented in one or more of the photographs. Guests dined on butternut squash soup, filet mignon, ham and much more. Marge’s granddaughter brought a gorgeous cake down from Connecticut.

Afterwards, the party continued at the old homestead. “Somebody asked me if mom needed to take a nap,” Meighan said. “I answered, ‘No, Mom never takes a nap.’”