March 9, 2010

Oldest American, central Maine roots

Oldest living American spent much of life in Maine

MADISON -- There are few local people who remember Mary Josephine Ray. As the oldest person in the United States, she outlived them.

Mary Jo Ray, Mary Josephine Ray
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There are few local people who remember Mary Josephine Ray. As the oldest person in the United States, she outlived them. Ray, who resided in Anson and Madison for about 60 years, died Sunday in a nursing home in Westmoreland, N.H., at age 114 years, 294 days.


Ray, who resided in Anson and Madison for about 60 years, died Sunday in a nursing home in Westmoreland, N.H. at age 114 years, 294 days.

Ray was the oldest person in the U.S. and the second-oldest in the world, according to the Gerontology Research Group.

"She just enjoyed life. She never thought of dying at all," her granddaughter Katherine Ray told the Associated Press. "She was planning for her birthday party."

She was active until about two weeks before her death. Even with her recent decline, Ray managed an interview with a reporter last week, Katherine Ray said.

The oldest living American is now Neva Morris, of Ames, Iowa, at age 114 years, 217 days. The oldest person in the world is Japan's Kama Chinen at age 114 years, 302 days.

Ray was born May 17, 1895, in Bloomfield, Prince Edward Island, Canada. She moved to the U.S. at age 3. As a teenager, after the death of her parents, she worked on her own as a housekeeper and store clerk. She married Walter H. Ray in 1923, according to her obituary.

They lived in Anson for many years and then moved to Madison. At age 72, following the death of her husband in 1967, she moved to Florida. At age 80, she moved to Massachusetts. At age 102, she became a resident of the Maplewood Nursing Home in Westmoreland, according to her obituary.

The few local residents in Anson and Madison who remember Ray, remember her husband and his store, Walter Ray's General Store, which was once located across from the Anson town hall. There is an insurance agency in its place now.

Rodney Mitchell, 78, lives on Thomas Street in Madison, across from the home in which the Rays lived in the 1960s. Mitchell worked for Walter Ray as a butcher at the general store from 1960 to 1969. Mary Ray "didn't neighbor much," he said, but the Rays were "good neighbors."

Fran Sabol, 70, who owns Three Rivers Disposal and Three Rivers Bottle Redemption in Anson, remembers going to the "classic general store" when he was young. Walter Ray had a "great reputation," he said, because he let people purchase items on credit when many stores did not.

Sabol said, "My father lived to be 90, and he always gave a lot of credit to Walter Ray, who was the one person who carried them during the thick and the thin. I remember that well. My father always referred to him as a nice man."

The general store, which was later run by one of Ray's two sons, Donald, sold cookies by the pound, Sabol recalled. It sold soda from an old soda cooler, packed with water and ice. In addition to the usual groceries, it sold lumber, clothing, beer and grain for livestock.

Sabol said he remembers people going behind the store to drink the beer. When they left the beer bottles, he would collect and return them for two cents each.

It was a family store.

Donald Ray and his now-wife, Barbara, who grew up in Anson, worked at the general store, said Phillip Barbeau, 85, of Madison, who is Barbara's cousin. Donald and Barbara now live in Westmoreland.

Barbeau said he remembers that Walter Ray owned race horses and traveled to a number of competitions. "He was well known in that," he said.

Irene Siket, 77, of Madison, said her husband Michael, who is deceased, was once friends with Donald Ray. "They'd get a bunch of fellas and play basketball and things like that," she recalled.

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