Centenarian reflects on a life well lived

NANCY CAREY, A resident of the EastView at Middlebury retirement community, will celebrate her 100th birthday this coming Tuesday, March 19. Born during the presidency of Calvin Coolidge, she still loves to work puzzles, read and watch mystery movies. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — It wasn’t that long ago you could find Nancy Carey in command atop a loping horse, or nestled in a kayak, her double-ended paddle knifing through clear waters.

But time forces concessions, and Carey — who on March 19 will mark her 100th birthday — has reluctantly made a few. While her limbs and hearing won’t cooperate as they once did, the diminutive EastView at Middlebury resident remains a keen conversationalist, a voracious reader and prodigious crossword puzzle solver.

There are fewer than 200 Vermonters right now who’ve reached the century mark. But don’t ask Nancy if she’s excited to be joining that exclusive club. She candidly confesses she’s prepared to “drop off the twig,” miffed by the limitations imposed on her by her body.

“It’s no joke being 100 years old; don’t do it,” she said, with a playful smile.

She said she owes her longevity, in part, to a nutritious diet, which has included a lot of soups, salads and omelets. At the same time, Carey has never been a smoker and has rarely consumed alcohol.

“I guess if I’d lived on Coca Cola and potato chips, I wouldn’t be here right now,” she said with a delightful deadpan delivery.

Nancy Carey was born in New York City on March 19, 1924 — during the Calvin Coolidge administration — and grew up in Newport, R.I. A short history of her life recently published in EastView’s March newsletter notes she comes from an artistic family. She had an aunt who was a gifted artist and children’s book author. Her father wrote about art, and one of her great-grandfathers was renowned marine painter William Trost Richards (1833-1905).

Nancy would demonstrate her own creative talents with a camera, mallet and chisel.

After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design, Carey in 1945 was hired as an inscription carver at Newport, R.I.’s John Stevens Shop. Founded in 1705, the John Stevens Shop specializes in the design and execution of inscriptions in stone, including gravestones and monuments.

Carey has photos of herself deftly and painstakingly inscribing names, birth/death years and thought-provoking verses into slate and granite epitaphs for a variety of people.

She can still recite by memory one of her favorite verses that she committed to stone:

“Alas, in how great measure shall others be found lacking, while you are still remembered.”

Her talent and hard work paid quick dividends. During an era when women were paid substantially less than their male peers and were routinely passed over for promotion, Carey became a full partner at the John Stevens Shop in 1946. There she faithfully toiled until 1956, when she married Arthur Graham Carey. They had two children together, Felicity and John.

Arthur and Nancy spent summers in Benson, Vt., and eventually built a home there that they called “the little mill house.” The couple enjoyed 28 years together, until Arthur’s death at age 92, in 1984.

Nancy moved into EastView in December of 2019, just before the COVID pandemic took hold.

“He was an amazingly able person,” Nancy said of her late husband, who among other things made gold and silver ornaments, wrote for a journal called “Good Work,” and took care of a herd of cows.

It should also be noted that Arthur Graham Carey was a World War I veteran. Upon graduating from Harvard in 1914, he served three years in the French Ambulance Corps. When the U.S. entered the war in 1917, he was transferred to the U.S. Army’s 76th Field Artillery, where he served as a lieutenant until the Armistice.

He was the first American to receive the French Croix de Guerre medal for bravery.

While Carey has spent her life on the East Coast of the U.S., her children have gone much farther afield.

MIDDLEBURY’S NANCY CAREY marks 100 years on this planet next Tuesday at her home at EastView.
Independent photo/Steve James

Felicity and her husband ran a ranch in Oklahoma for 30 years, during which time she was a top judge in reining horse competitions; they have since moved to Australia. John lives with his family in England; he is a published writer and teaches Celtic Studies in Cork, Ireland.

Thanks to her willingness to embrace new technology, Carey and her children stay in close contact in spite of the many miles that separate them. Nancy during this interview had an iPad resting on her lap. She uses the device to e-mail Felicity twice a day and to FaceTime with John every night.

Both children visit Nancy two or three times a year and will of course be on hand for her 100th birthday celebration. She’ll also get warm salutations from many other family members. She has three grandchildren and also four generations of step (which she calls “honorary”) grandkids, tied to her through her husband’s first marriage. They include nine honorary grandchildren, 25 honorary great-grandchildren: 66 honorary great-great-grandchildren and three honorary great-great-great-grandchildren.

One of those honorary grandchildren is Barbara Cunningham, who resides in Addison County and graciously sat in for the interview.

“I’m very lucky to have inherited such a nice batch of grandchildren,” Nancy said with a smile.

Many of their faces can be seen in photos in Carey’s EastView room, some of which Nancy took and developed herself. The photos keep her company, as does her beloved cat Angel, who occasionally tried to commandeer this reporter’s lap during the interview.

Fortunately, Carey’s eyesight is still fairly keen. With the aid of spectacles, she’s able to complete crossword puzzles and read — she’s now pouring through a series of Anthony Trollope novels. Nancy is a big Agatha Christie fan and has a bunch of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries on DVD.

Carey acknowledges the many technological advances that have been made during her lifetime. She was born three years before both TV and the first talkie motion picture (“The Jazz Singer”). Now there’s the internet, cell phones, electric cars and space travel.

And of course, her beloved iPad.

“None of this was ever dreamt of,” she said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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