A Special Honor For Sarah Harris, Orleans' Most Senior Citizen

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Aging

Selectmen Chairman Jon Fuller presents the Boston Post Cane to Orleans' oldest resident, Sarah Harris, on Friday. ALAN POLLOCK PHOTO

ORLEANS — A 108-year-old tradition was renewed in Orleans Friday when Town Clerk Cynthia May awarded the Boston Post Cane to the oldest resident of the town, Sarah Harris.

And the tradition is only a bit older than the honoree. Harris turned 103 in June.

“I don't mind being old,” Harris quipped. From the comfort of her living room easy chair, she received the congratulations of Selectmen Jon Fuller and Alan McClennen, who presented her with a framed proclamation from the board.

Harris got to keep the proclamation, though she had to give back the cane, which is kept on display at town hall.

Boston Post publisher Edwin Grozier sent gold-capped ebony canes to 700 New England towns in 1909 to be given to the oldest male resident, in a cleverly self-perpetuating publicity stunt. Women became eligible to receive the cane in 1930, after considerable controversy. The tradition is still upheld in many towns, and outlived the newspaper that created it, which ceased publication in the late 1950s.

While the elegant canes have been lost or stolen in many communities, Orleans' cane stayed safe over the years. Its last recipient, Mary Portnoy of East Orleans, passed away last month at the age of 104.

Harris is still well known around town, and for many years had a reserved table at the Yardarm three times each week. She has excellent eyesight and drove a car until 1996, and for many years enjoyed bowling. She has six grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and one great-great grandchild, and remains spry, active and mentally sharp, daughter Judith Jalbert said.

“She says walkers are for old people,” Jalbert quipped.

Harris has another secret of longevity: she enjoys a sip – and just a sip – of Seagram's VO each evening after dinner. And on Friday, she also seemed to be enjoying the celebrity.

“I am very excited about it,” she said with a smile.