PAWTUCKET — Ask George Hey his reaction to having reached triple figures, and he smartly replies, “I don’t know. I’d guess I feel the same as I did last week.”
Fact is, Hey, who has been living at the Pawtucket Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, located at 70 Gill Ave. for the past seven months, turned 100 on Tuesday, and those who love him threw one heckuva birthday party inside the first-floor activities room. It included a few dozen residents, nurses and administrators as well as most of his four children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“He looks good, without question,” stated Activities Director M.J. Guadalupe. “He may be a little forgetful at times, but he definitely knows what’s going on. Everyone in this place adores him – the residents, staff and his family, and it’s because he never has anything bad to say about anybody.
“He’s one of the friendliest guys I’ve ever met; he’s always happy, always smiling,” she continued. “He loves his books, or at least he used to. Now he spends a lot of time watching TV, like game shows, the news and sports, but he loves talking about anything, in particular the past.”
Just six weeks ago, on Veterans Day, family members drove Hey to the Cumberland Monastery to receive a special United States flag during a ceremony there. Fellow vets, including long-time buddy Jimmy Wright, were on hand to witness the presentation, one that brought tears to the eyes of most attendees.
Hey, who maintained he’s always been extremely proud to hail from Cumberland – “I lived almost my whole life there” – left Cumberland High School early in his academic career to begin working for his dad, a building contractor.
“I didn’t have much of a choice, really,” Hey said with a snicker. “He just told me, ‘You’re gonna help me build houses!’ and that was it.”
Later on, he signed up to join the Merchant Marines, and spent 1941-45 serving as a seaman in World War II.
“In that time, I covered a lot of ground; I’ve been to England, France,” he noted. “I had no rank, but I did a lot of work. I guess you could say I was a jack-of-all-trades. I remember, at the end of the war, we were at port and preparing to go out into the (Atlantic) ocean, and there were two German submarines not far out there just waiting for us.
“Then we found out the war was over, that it had ended, so we didn’t have to go out there,” he added. “Lucky us!”
When Hey returned, he married his long-time classmate and friend, Dot Rawlinson, and the couple settled down in their hometown and had four children together. He continued to work for his father in the house-building business, and later labored as a carpenter/woodbuilder at Brown University.
When Dot died in the 1990s, Hey became rather depressed that his “forever” partner was no longer with him. He did, however, find some peace when he met Lise Thibault in the summer of 1998.
“I met him through another elderly friend I used to take care of, a lady named Marion Goldberg, who lived in Lincoln,” Thibault stated as she sat next to Hey. “They were in school together, so knew each other a long time, since they were kids. I was always friends with her, and he came to visit one day. I remember I opened the door and said, ‘What are YOU doing here?’ and he just gave a big smile.
“His family told me he was bitter and upset about his wife,” she added. “He later told them that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted me to take care of him. Wouldn’t you know it? About three months later, he fell and broke his ankle. Marion passed away in 2000, so I started taking care of George not long after.
“I’d take him to the store, to the barber, those kinds of things, and I did it because that’s just me. I wasn’t working, and I’ve always been close to and related well with the elderly. I’ve been caring for him for over 10 years; I knew he was lonely, and I just wanted to help. He’s such a nice man.
“He calls me his adopted daughter, and that makes me feel great!”
Nowadays, Hey’s eyes aren’t as good as they once were, so reading books, newspapers and magazines have been replaced by watching westerns (his favorite actors include John Wayne and Clint Eastwood) and other shows, not to mention the Red Sox and other sports on TV.
He admitted, on Christmas Eve, he will keep an eye on the Miami-New England football game.
“I used to like Miami when they played under (head coach) Don Shula (in the 1970s), and I still do,” he noted. When asked who he’d root for this Saturday, he slyly replied, “I’ve got to be careful here, so I’ll just say, ‘No comment.’”
Suddenly, Hey and Thibault’s heads spun when they noticed a woman who had brought a dog into the activities room. They asked what type of canine she was, and the woman told them “Tori” was a whippet-beagle mix.
She picked up Tori, and Hey gently gave the dog a few gentle pats.
“How are you doing, Tori?” he asked. “You’re beautiful, aren’t you?”
Seconds later, a man Hey didn’t know approached him and said, “Congratulations, sir, on your 100th birthday. I’m proud to have met you.”
Hey shook his hand and beamed.
When asked what his secret was for his longevity, Hey initially seemed puzzled. Admission Director Sharon Glaude immediately indicated, “I think it’s his positive outlook on life.”
That’s when Hey replied, “Well, I never smoked in my life, and I didn’t drink much. I used to love my 3 p.m. drink (Canadian whiskey and ginger ale) later on in my life, but I don’t have that anymore.
“I’ve also exercised, and I know I have this machine here (he pointed at his wheelchair) to help me,” he continued. “I also work out with barbells.”
Thibault revealed he used to adore taking his daughters on train rides around the country, and that one in particular used to write school reports about their odysseys together.
Hey revealed he has many outstanding memories of his life, and being in the military was one of them.
“The flag the veterans gave me means a whole lot to me,” he said. “I gave four years of my life fighting for this country, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And you know what? If I had to do it all over again, I’d marry Lise tomorrow – or even later today.
“She not only is beautiful and good-looking, but she’s got the kindest heart. She takes good care of me, and so do the people here.”