Margaret ‘Mae’ Lewis isn’t phased by much – not even the fact that she’s more than a century old. The former Dorchester resident said celebrating 103 birthdays is not as hard as it sounds.
“It’s easy,” she said. “Just live.”
Born Dec. 4, 1907 in Nova Scotia, Lewis gets around Compass on the Bay, a South Boston assisted living facility on Columbia Road, using a walker decorated with colorful plastic leis, and has a firm handshake more befitting of a business person less than half her age. She smiles brightly when employees pass her in the hall and say, “Mae, you look great.”
Lewis is the only resident over 100 years old at Compass on the Bay. The community, formerly known as The BayView Assisted Living, was re-named in June after a $3 million renovation and is operated by Senior Living Residences, a Boston-based manager of 10 senior living, assisted living, and dementia care facilities.
She grew up on her parents’ large farm in Nova Scotia, where she rode horses (“There were no cars there at that time,” she said) and weaved baskets out of pine needles. Her love for rowing and sailing ran in the family – Her father was a member of the British Navy, and Lewis herself spent many years living by the sea.
After Lewis’ father died at sea when she was about 20 years old, the family moved to Dorchester. Lewis eventually settled in Squantum with her husband and worked for the Keystone Camera Company.
She lived in a “small, four-room house near the water” in Squantum for 25 or 30 years before moving to an assisted living facility. She has a son, Irving, who still lives in Squantum and stops by for a visit once a week.
Just under 10,000 Bostonians are 85 or older, according to the 2005-2009 American Community Survey. About 1,800 of those seniors live in Dorchester, where elderly women outnumber elderly men two to one. Compass on the Bay has 38 beds for both assisted living residents and Alzheimer’s care patients. Residents often cross the street to sit on the beach during the warmer months, but Lewis said the summer sun is too strong for her.
Though Lewis does not always participate in the social activities Compass staff members plan – at 103, she wears two hearing aids and spends her fair share of time sleeping – she said she enjoys the entertainment employees bring in.
“They’re very good to us,” she said.
Lewis is usually found with her roommate of two years, Natalie Tyrrell. Together they take walks, share stories, and watch television – nothing in particular, just “whatever is on,” Lewis said. The two share a room with stacked piles of books, a television set, and two beds covered in flowery sheets.
“I call her my little doll,” said Tyrrell, 80. “I love her very much. She’s like family to me.”
Tyrrell said she helps Lewis dress and take care of herself. She said Lewis is caring and a joy to be with.
“She’s a wonderful person,” Tyrrell said. “She’s everything good, Mae is.”