Leap Year Lady: Charlestown’s oldest resident turns…26?

When Charlestown’s Irene Morey thinks back through the many years, the sharp-witted woman unlocks memories from times long past – the many decades she’s lived through:  the presidents, the accolades, the ups and the downs.

As Charlestown’s oldest resident, Morey remembers just about everything, but not all things, of course. It can be hard to recall so many moments when you’ve lived to the ripe old age of 26.

That’s no misprint.

Morey, who by years will turn 104 this Saturday, is only 26 by the calendar – a leap year baby who enjoys life to the fullest in spite of her simultaneous old and young ages.

“I’m only 26 really,” she said, “but I’ll turn 104. I was ripped off. There were never any birthdays. I always say I got robbed, but I celebrate in my own way. I’ve gone down to the restaurant in the Navy Yard every year since I turned 101. I do it my way.”

Morey grew up in Lowell, but came to Boston many moons ago to take a job as a nurse at the old Boston City Hospital – never really returning to Lowell. As a kid, she said they never really celebrated her birthday – maybe because it was on leap year, maybe not.

“A lot of people in that era didn’t know anything about leap year,” she said. “I never celebrated my birthday. As a kid, I had no birthday parties. We didn’t celebrate that much in those days anyway to tell the truth. In fact, I don’t recall celebrating my birthday until I turned 100. In fact, no one really knew me or knew I existed until I turned 101. Then I was famous all the sudden.”

The fact that Morey’s birthday is on leap year is quite fitting for her energetic and quirky personality. A true Old Bostonian who lived through so many years in the City, marrying a Townie years ago and getting close to the late John F. Kennedy and his family.

“Every time I get up, I put my feet on the ground, raise my hands up to God, and say ‘Thank you,’” said Morey.

It is her faith, a belief in meditation, her art and a devotion to Sudoku that she says keep her young – thought her genes seem to run in the family as she has siblings that are 102, 96 and 92.

“Every day I do charcoal drawings,” said Morey, who at one time was a painter accepted into the Copley Society. “I do those drawings with my eyes closed though. It’s meditative. I don’t know what it’s going to be until I open my eyes. The Sudoku keeps my mind sharp and I do Tai Chi here too…The most important organ in your body is your brain. When it’s gone, you’re gone. I keep busy.”

It’s those things that the Navy Yard resident does that has made here one of the darlings of the City’s Age Strong Commission, and also landed her on Chronicle last year.

But her life had many exciting twists before she hit 100.

She met her late husband, Bob Morey, in North Station on a whim while she was waiting for a train to go the City Hospital. She was having coffee, and the Charlestown gentleman approached her and asked her for her number. Although she tought he would never call, Morey did. After a few dates, they were kindred spirits.

Bob Morey grew up in Charlestown and attended the Frothingham School, and was cousins with former Patriot publisher Jim Conway. Morey was a talented painter as well, studying under a Dutch master on the South Shore in his youth.

However, a defining moment for Irene and her husband was when he met John F. Kennedy early in the legendary politician’s life. Morey and some friends went to a church in Chinatown to see him speak. Afterwards, JFK asked him for support.

“JFK told Bob he was looking for some quality guys from Charlestown,” said Morey. “He wanted Bob to work for him. He asked my husband and Billy Sutton, also from Charlestown, for help. My husband stayed with him from that day on.”

That led Irene and their family to be able to see the famed Kennedy Inauguration, and her husband became a U.S. Marshal working out of Boston – a job that also allowed him to use his artistic talents to design and paint the official seal of the U.S. Marshal Service. That seal is still used today, and Morey recently flew to Ft. Smith, Ark., for a private ceremony to celebrate a new museum for the Marshal Service, one that is adorned with Bob Morey’s seal.

A key to Morey’s life has been her artistic side, she said.

After a horrific snowstorm when she was working at the Marine Hospital in Brighton nearly alone, Morey said she threw in the towel on nursing after 30 years and went to art school in the 1950s. The only adult studying at Mass Art, Morey said it was the best thing she ever did.

“I became a painter and I went to art school,” she said. “My husband was already an artist and he had a studio in the Back Bay. It was the best part of my life. I was working alongside young kids and they wore cut-off shorts, but I had to do it.”

Morey moved back to Charlestown many years ago, and enjoys her neighbors and her daily life of meditation and contemplation – as well as her sojourns with Age Strong. It’s an active life at the ripe old age of 26, but it’s one that she said has been fulfilling – a treasure trove of memories.

“Everything in moderation,” she said. “It’s all in the attitude. If you want to be a grouch, get off my couch. I came up with that one. Honestly, I could be complaining that my knee hurts, but I don’t. I haven’t been to the doctor in 16 years. I don’t take any medications. I only take vitamins. All of them. Whatever. If your knee hurts, I say deal with it. What do you think? You’ll go through life without any pain? Get over it. Live life. I’ll go to bars and restaurants. I go to Sully’s and I go to the Ritz. Whatever.” Morey plans to celebrate with friends in the Navy Yard this Saturday, when she’ll turn 104, or 26. Whatever!

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