Remembering a woman who worked hard, prayed hard and partied hard

Remembering a woman who worked hard, prayed hard and partied hard

From running her own business into her 80s, to outlasting everyone else on New Year's Eve, Mary Catherine Power crammed a lot into her 108 years.

"In the afternoons when the [great-grand] kids would come home from school, she would sit there — and this is when she was 103, 104 — and play Play-Doh. The kids would set up the bowling pins and she would bowl with them," recalled her granddaughter Janice Webber.

"This is what she did in her hundreds. It is incredible. She [had] such a zest for life." 

Power was Newfoundland and Labrador's oldest known citizen until she died Tuesday in Corner Brook.

"Muffy" — as she was known to her four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren — took charge of everything in her life. Born at home in Gambo in 1909, she decided to move on her own to Corner Brook at the age of 19.

There, she knew she would marry her husband the first time she laid eyes on him. She knew what house she would live in as she saw it being built. And true to her style, Power dictated when she was ready to go.

"She was very strong willed, a very determined woman. She got out of bed every day at 107, 108 years old, up until a few weeks ago," said granddaughter Kelly Webber. 

Power had made up her mind, speaking of her desire to be reunited with her sister, sons and other deceased relatives, and that's all there was to it. 

"On Mother's Day, she called me in her room, and she said, 'If I don't want to get up anymore, don't make me get up. If I don't want to eat or drink anymore, don't make me eat or drink. I just want to go home," said Janice Webber, adding Power only left her house for the hospital in her last 24 hours.

Virtue, vice … and Victor Newman

A lifelong resident of Newfoundland and Labrador, Power was a citizen of two countries — the United Kingdom and Canada — saw both world wars begin and end and the Titanic sink, said goodbye to the 20th century and kept tabs on the new millennium, tuning in to the topics of the day on VOCM's Open Line.

When asked by the CBC on the eve of her 107th birthday how she stayed as sharp as a tack, Power pointed skyward.

"I always looked at it, it's God's will. If I ever got in the least bit of trouble, the first thing I'd do is take out my [rosary] beads. I tell you, my dear, if you don't pray, you're losing a lot," said Power, a devout Catholic.

Faith was always front and centre in Power's life, but that didn't get in the way of her having fun. 

Power vacationed from Mexico to Vancouver, but one of her favourite stops was Las Vegas, where she didn't shy away a night or two at the casino. Kelly Webber recalled that in recent years the two of them had talked about a return trip there but had to settle on the Halifax casino instead. 

No matter if it was Sin City or Corner Brook, Power was always ready for a social evening.

Janice Webber has lots of memories of Power "getting her hair set in curlers, putting her makeup on, getting ready to dance all night," adding that even when Webber was a university student, her grandmother could last just as long as she did at New Year's Eve parties. 

Maybe her daily cup of coffee helped her longevity. Or the one morning cigarette she enjoyed until quitting sometime in her 80s. Or maybe, it was her sense of humour.

When she turned 100, Power — a longtime fan of The Young and The Restless — joked with her granddaughters that all she wanted was its heartthrob villain, Victor Newman, to show up for her party. It may have been one of the few times her iron will didn't yield results — she had to settle with simply seeing him on TV, during "the stories."

Fierce and feminist

In some ways, Power was ahead of her time.

After her husband retired from his job at the paper mill, she decided to go into business for herself, turning their house on Main Street into Power's Tourist Home, instilling entrepreneurship and feminism into her daughter and granddaughters.

"She was very liberal, and she wanted us to be strong women," said Kelly Webber, who grew up living and working in the family business. 

"She [thought] women should have their own money, make their own decisions, and do as they please in life."

Webber and her sister likened their home experience to living "at the United Nations," greeting guests from Germany to the Philippines at a time when immigration and tourism was far rarer than it is today.

But getting exposure to world travellers didn't mean they could shirk their duties, which included drying linens and dropping cheques by the bank by the time they were 10 years old.

"Finances were very important to Muffy," said Janice Webber. By all accounts, Power worked hard for her financial security, but didn't hesitate to spread it around.

"She spent tons of money!" laughed Janice. "She would go away and come back, there'd be suitcases of things for Kelly and I and Catherine."

The Century Club

Power's life is all the more remarkable for its longevity.

 While centenarians were the fastest growing age group in Canada between 2011 and 2016, according to the latest census data, there were still only 8,230 of them in the country in 2016. Added to that, Newfoundland and Labrador has the second-lowest number of people over the age of 85 of any province (only Alberta has fewer).

Service NL, which tracks age via MCP numbers, told CBC that with Power's passing, there are only 151 other centenarians left in the province, with another 108-year-old now the oldest known citizen.

Power's family says while being the oldest Newfoundlander was an accomplishment, what mattered more was how she spent those years, loving and being loved. Her funeral Friday in Corner Brook — which, of course, Power planned for herself — was meant to be a celebration rather than a solemn memorial.