The year was 1908. It was the year the first New Year’s Eve ball dropped in New York City’s Times Square, Henry Ford’s company built the first Model T and Oklahoma became the 46th state in the Union. And it was the year Genevieve Duffy was born.
Genevieve, of Westminster, passed away in June, weeks after her 111th birthday.
“She started failing, but only from the neck down,” says her daughter, Maureen Seibel. “From the neck up, she was as sharp as a tack, and she did not want to leave her apartment.” Genevieve’s health started declining earlier this year, and she entered into Carroll Hospice’s care at her home with the help of Maureen, her husband, their son and Genevieve’s neighbor.
“It was excellent care,” Maureen says of Carroll Hospice. “I can’t speak highly enough of it.” Hospice staff were quick to answer any of the family’s questions, and they also offered special touches that made Genevieve feel special, such as painting her fingernails. “She was so delighted with it,” Maureen says.
Throughout her life, Genevieve was fiercely independent. “She liked to do what she wanted to do when she wanted to do it,” Maureen remembers.
Genevieve was born in New Jersey and went to nursing school outside of Philadelphia, then returned to her home state to work as an obstetrics nurse, where she met her husband, John Duffy. After they were married and started a family in the 1930s, she quit working to be a stay-at-home mother, occasionally taking private nursing jobs. In her 50s, she returned to the workforce, working in a home furnishings store and taking an interest in interior design. Genevieve’s husband passed away in 1976 after more than 40 years of marriage, and Maureen pointed out that her mother had been a widow longer than she was married.
Genevieve moved around a bit and eventually came to Westminster in the 1980s to be closer to family. When she was in her 70s, she would often prepare the evening meal for the nuns at St. John Catholic Church in Westminster and walked to Mass every day. And even when she moved to a different apartment farther away in town, she continued to trek several miles to attend Mass each day until she stopped for safety’s sake.
“She didn’t pamper herself. She ate what she wanted to eat, she would drink what she wanted to drink, she would go wherever she wanted to go, usually on the shoe leather express, unless she had someone to drive her,” says Maureen. She credits Genevieve’s longevity partly to her mother’s Polish genes and that, as a nurse, she took care of herself throughout her life.
In addition to the love and memories that Genevieve left behind, the family found a few possessions they didn’t know she had. This included photos of Genevieve and her sister as children and a photo of Genevieve’s father as a teenager. There was also a very large professional photo of Genevieve at around age 3 with her younger sister and her father in a park setting.
“It is a treasure,” says Maureen. “I’d never seen it in all my life.”
In Her Own Words
We had the honor of speaking with Genevieve about her life in early 2019.
Growing up, she remembered, the kids in her neighborhood played on the outside steps where they lived. “We never had toys given to us,” she said.“We always made them ourselves. It was a lot of fun.”
Families from Germany, Italy and other countries lived on Lincoln Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, where she was born and raised, and patriotism was strong there. “We all had such respect for the United States and the American flag,” she said.
She described her mother’s father as a strict and meticulous man who’d come from Ireland and owned a wagon business. Her grandfather would eat lunch and dinner with her family, and little details, like how he always wanted a napkin ring around his napkin, still stuck out in Genevieve’s mind so many decades later. “He was a very special man to me,” she said. Her paternal grandfather lived in a home in Brooklyn that had the kitchen down in the basement, and she said a lot of baking took place down there. “It was really wonderful, when I think about it,” she said.
Longevity ran on her father’s side of the family, and she said one of her aunts lived to be 102 years old and others lived until their 80s and 90s. Genevieve came to Westminster in the early 1980s to be closer to her daughter and son-in-law and noted how more traffic and shopping centers had come about since then.
“Like everything else,” Genevieve said, “it all changes.”