At 100, Grace Gilligan doesn’t expect to be hitting the golf course anytime soon.
But she keeps a set of clubs in her garage–“just in case.”
Hers is just the sort of sunny optimism that U.S. Navy nurse Nellie Forbush sang about in “South Pacific,” the Rodgers and
Hammerstein musical in 1949, the year the equally irrepressible Somers centenarian turned 29.
Being upbeat and continually curious about life are traits that have served Gilligan well, especially after she lost her beloved life partner, traveling companion and father of her four children, Bernard, in 1996, just a year after the former Pleasantville couple moved into Heritage Hills.
They had been married for 55 years. Gilligan was 76.
Instead of moping around the house, Gilligan threw herself into the retirement community’s social whirl, joining the Women’s Club, where she was its treasurer; and Chat and Sew, a charitable organization that made, among other things, comfortable bed pads for terminally ill patients at Rosary Hill Home in Hawthorne.
She even took a turn with the local bowling club where she was—proudly—named “most improved bowler.”
Then at 78, an age at which no one would blame her for resting on her laurels, Gilligan did something even more remarkable.
She fell in love again.
Gilligan was leafing through the local newspaper one day when she happened upon the obituary of the sister of a childhood friend…well, actually, her ninth-grade boyfriend.
She and Frank Grimmer and been part of the teen crowd in New Rochelle. Everyone sort of innocently paired off back in those days while the whole gang went swimming or to the movies.
Gilligan remembers long walks holding hands with JR, his nickname.
Her high school sorority sisters had dubbed her “Terry” because, Gilligan recalled, “Grace sounded too religious.”
Things were rosy until Gilligan’s family moved to Mount Vernon and the two young love birds eventually lost touch.
Noticing that Frank, now a widower, was living in North Salem just a few miles away, Gilligan sent him a sympathy card.
Before she knew it, he was sitting on her living room couch, reminiscing over photographs of them strolling around the old neighborhood.
The time that had passed no longer had any relevance.
“To meet someone after all those years, it seemed like it was yesterday,” Gilligan said.
Grimmer, it turned out, shared Gilligan’s lifelong wanderlust. Soon the reunited pair were hitting the road, going to family gatherings, exploring historical sites and visiting Pennsylvania’s so-called Amish country.
Not bad for two folks pushing 80.
Grimmer passed away in February 2002 at age 83, and Gilligan has no regrets about their nearly four years together, as they created so many new memories together.
When asked why they hadn’t married, she responded with twinkling eyes: “It was too complicated. Besides, it was just a piece of paper.”
Once again Gilligan, who takes care of herself–a feat at 80, never mind 100–is staying busy, if not physically, at the very least mentally.
She avidly follows the news, comparing and contrasting today’s major events with those in the recent past.
According to one of her three daughters, Maureen Desimone, she “never forgets anything” or where she was when she first heard about it.
“I was a home watching television during 9/11 and I saw it all go down,” or, “I was in France when we landed on the moon,” she might say.
Gilligan even kept up with the current presidential impeachment trial.
And she still goes for the occasional paddle in the ocean, wading into waves people half her age are afraid to tackle, said Desimone.
In response to the standard “secret of your longevity” question, Gilligan gleefully volunteered, “You know how when you go to the doctor, and he sits there with a somber face before telling you, ‘We can’t find anything wrong’? Well, I just tell him that the secret’s a Manhattan (cocktail). Alcohol kills the germs.”
On Jan. 15, Gilligan marked her 100th birthday with her substantial tribe at Traditions, a cozy restaurant in Granite Springs. The beaming matriarch was photographed surrounded by grand- and great-grandchildren and snuggling the youngest clan member, adorable 6-month-old Demi Jean.
According to Desimone, she has 10 grandchildren, a dozen great-grandchildren and one more on the way.
Given away as party favors were jars of Smucker’s jam printed with Gilligan’s smiling face.
(No one knows exactly how it got started, but for years the “Today” show had given people marking the milestone birthday the chance to see their face printed on a jar of fruity goodness. Veteran weatherman Willard Scott started the tradition with one of the show’s sponsors, Smucker’s. It was carried on by Al Roker, television personality, host of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade and former Yorktown resident.)
Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey was on hand to present Gilligan with a framed proclamation, which she now proudly displays next to a small statue of a zebra in her tidy living room.
On a recent Friday afternoon, Gilligan rocked a pretty pink outfit complete with jaunty beret as she sat next to the picture window from which she watches deer and other woodland creatures frolic.
When asked what it’s like to turn 100, Gilligan said she feels “just the same” as she ever did.
There’s still plenty to look forward to, but, she admits, there are limitations.
“My goal is 105. I can’t see going past that,” Gilligan said.