Gotreau, Molly

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                                    MOLLY GOTREAU
                                  By Joanne Cadogan


                      MIRAMICHI – She danced with Joe DiMaggio.

When royalty came to the town, she was always invited. She met Queen Elizabeth at the train station during her visit here and was the person who introduced Her Majesty to the crowd at the Newcastle town square.

And when the Black Watch received its colors from the Queen Mother in 1962, she was invited up to Montreal, provided with a suite of rooms and seats in a special section reserved for VIPs during the ceremony. “I was a great friend of the Queen Mother and the Queen. I was invited to stand for them and I was invited to their banquets,” says Molly Gotreau, who will mark her 103rd birthday on Saturday.

Some might think Molly Gotreau has drifted into a fantasy world in her twilight years – but she’s got souvenirs to support most of her memories. She has a photograph of King Edward VI sent to her in thanks for a piece of music she wrote and sent him. “I have a picture of when he was King, from the time three kings resigned in one year,” she says.

Gotreau has remained on the royal radar ever since. She’s a World War I widow – she’s pretty sure the oldest living one – and over the years she’s been very active with the Royal Canadian Legion Ladies Auxiliary (she’s a past president). She’s an honorary member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #10. She is also a member of the 42nd Highlanders, the Black Watch.

It was through her husband Maurice – who was a member of the Black Watch before he was transferred to the 122nd in WWI – that these ties were first forged.

Molly still has the invitation the Queen Mother’s staff sent to the Black Watch color ceremony in Montreal in 1962. And she has a photo and typed note from Queen Elizabeth congratulating her on her 100th birthday.

                                 In the beginning

Molly was born Mary Murray to Susan and Irving Murray April 20, 1899. She was an only child but grew up in a house full of siblings as her mother regularly fostered children from the convent – Molly believes as many as 25 over her lifetime.

As a child, Molly was friends with Francis Fish – who went on to become one of the province’s first female lawyers and judges – and Travin Aitken, little “Maxie’s” brother. “Maxie knew me – the little brat,” Molly says of the man who would later become Lord Beaverbrook.

Molly’s was an active childhood in which she proved to be unsinkable. “From the time I was five I swam, skated, and skied,” she says. “I saved lives. I swam for two days up here,” she said, pointing in the direction of the Morrissy Bridge, “for two bodies at the bridge.” Molly often swam at night and said once, during a midnight swim to Beaubear’s Island, she discovered Germans sneaking around the island in the dark. “I saw them, but they never saw me. I ducked. Then I came back and told my father.”

One of Molly’s early jobs was as a clerk at John O’Brien’s clothing store.

“I met an Assyrian traveller at that time. He travelled for clothes. We stayed friends for a long time,” Molly said, noting whenever he found a particularly beautiful gown he would make sure Molly got a chance to buy it. The gowns were important because Molly loved to dance. Somewhere in her home at 305 King George Highway she has some of her filled-up dance cards. The closets are still filled with beautiful dance dresses wrapped in plastic. Dances were more structured affairs in Molly’s youth. The band would play specific types of dances in a specific order and young men would sign their names next to the particular dance they wanted to share with a particular young lady. Molly was a good dancer and her dance cards filled up early. She was such a good dancer; she even won cash in a few dance competitions.

                            Marilyn wasn’t the only one
                      Dancing is Molly’s link to Hollywood royalty.

It all started with a trip to Toronto Exhibition to buy a fur coat. Molly was staying at the Royal York Hotel and spent her evenings in the ballroom enjoying the orchestra. It was there that she caught Joe DiMaggio’s eye. She later learned that he went up to members of the hotel staff to find out who she was. “They couldn’t tell him who I was or why I was there. All they knew was that I was a guest at the hotel,” Molly said.

The mystery woman must have intrigued the baseball star because in the wee hours of the morning he walked up to her and asked her for a dance. It was a magic moment. Molly still remembers his soft kiss on her cheek when the dance was done. “Marilyn Monroe wasn’t the only one who had Joe DiMaggio,” she said of that brief ballroom alliance. “I was sad when he died. He was what you call a gentleman, a little kiss on the face, that was it.”

                   Cooking for veterans, police and firefighters

Molly Gotreau had a long career as a nurse, from which she says she never really retired.

She recalls travelling into the woods to help women deliver their babies, and performing first aid at accident sites trying to keep victims alive until the ambulance came. But it seems her mission in life has been to help the heroes she sees around her. Before there was a veteran’s wing at the Miramichi Senior Citizen’s Home, Molly and the members of the Ladies Auxiliary would load up a vehicle with homemade food once a month and take it to the local veterans staying in Fredericton. They made that trip every month for years.

They provided the same service to firefighters. Molly recalls making trips into the woods to take food to the men fighting forest fires. Miramichi fire Chief David Keating said while the department doesn’t call on the Legion and the auxiliary to help out as often as they once did, it’s nice to know that help is there at the end of the line when you need it. “Look at what happened after the train wreck,” he said the VIA train derailment in January 2000. “Businesses, clubs, organizations and individuals went to work right away. The tables here at the fire station were loaded down with food, and people really appreciated it.”

Merle Campbell of the Miramichi Police Department recalls his early days on foot patrol in Newcastle. “Molly lives right next to Park’s Dairy Bar and when we’d walk by to do the check there you’d see her out on the porch.” Molly was quick to open the door and offer the passing officer a cup of coffee. And Campbell said there was often a piece of pie or some other treat on the snack menu, too. “She is just incredible,” he said of Molly. “Over the years, she’s been very pro-police and fire department, organizing dinners and doing all sorts of things to offer support. “I can really honestly say she took care of a lot of people. It’s true she made a lot of friends over the years. What a woman,” he said, his voice ringing in awe.

                         Blue Jays ball players love Molly Gotreau

Molly Gotreau is a big Blue Jays ball fan –and the baseball stars are pretty fond of her, too. Perhaps that’s because at 103 she still stays up late to watch their games on TV – all the while knitting socks to send to the players.

Earlier this week she was presented with the fifth in a series of signed prints of stars from the baseball club along with a letter congratulating her on her 103rd birthday and thanking her for being such a big Blue Jays fan. Molly says she thinks the Blue Jays must fight over whose picture they’ll send each year. This year Raul Mondese won.

                                   Open house Saturday

Miramichiers will have the opportunity to offer their congratulations and thanks for Molly’s years of service to the community at an open house at 305 King George Street from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday.

While Molly is predeceased by a son, Don Gotreau, and a daughter, Geraldine (Geri), her surviving children want to welcome Molly’s friends and family to come and help celebrate her wonderful life.


Source: Miramichi Leader Weekend – April 19, 2002

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