Lillian Turnbull celebrated her 105th birthday recently in her usual style—with a birthday weekend.
One day just isn’t enough time for this vivacious lady. Lillian’s birthday is a three-day affair and includes dinner at a fancy restaurant and a family gathering at her home. The South Portland resident is often asked the secret to living such a long, active life, and, to cut to the chase, she doesn’t have one.
“She’s just really healthy. Everything about her is healthy,” said her daughter, Pam Merrill. “She has a great attitude. She never complains about anything.”
Perhaps her love of music has kept her so young. For years, she and her friends were regulars at local restaurants with live bands.
“They kept the VFW open on Wednesday nights,” said Pam, recalling how her mother and her friends would get the dinner special and then stay late to socialize and enjoy karaoke. They didn’t keep the bartender busy, as they all drank water.
Lillian is a long-time fan of local musicians Don Campbell and Jose Duddy. Pam recalls one time going out to see Jose perform on a hot summer night, and her mother was dancing the night away barefoot. It was getting late and they were about to leave, but they decided to stay to listen to an audience member who asked Jose if he could sing a song. Jose tells the crowd that it’s a romantic song, “so grab your honey and hold them close,” and walks off the stage. Pam and Lillian thought he was going to dance with his wife, but he heads straight to Lillian, takes her purse off her lap, and leads her to the dance floor.
“It was just the two of them. No one else was on the dance floor. It was very sweet,” said Pam.
Though the pandemic has cramped her style as far as going to live music, Lillian has plans to go listen to her favorite musicians after the COVID time is over. Though many of the places Lillian loves to go to are closed these days—she’s an avid theater goer and also enjoys movies—she’s not one to just sit around the house. While remaining socially distanced from others, she and Pam still like going out for lunch and keeping as active and engaged with the world as possible.
Lillian’s zest for life could also be attributed to a loving family. She was born in Boston, and she and her future husband Gene were a couple at 12 years old. When Gene was 14, he had Lillian’s name tattooed on his arm. They doted on each other and were a close couple until Gene died at the age of 56.
The couple had five children, and Lillian was an exceptionally skilled cook for her family.
“If you ate here, you would think you were at the Four Seasons. She was a gourmet cook,” said Pam.
And sociable. Lillian would run to the store to get one item, and she could be gone for a couple of hours. She was like a magnet for people and new friends, Pam explained. People were always approaching her, and she was always happy to give cooking advice.
Lillian has always liked to keep busy. Around the time of her husband’s death, she began working at Fairchild Semiconductor as a government source inspector. In her late 90s she took exercise classes three days a week, learning strength training, yoga, and Pilates.
Good family, food, friends, work, exercise, and a positive attitude? Maybe there is a secret to living such a long, active life in there somewhere, after all. Meanwhile, Happy Birthday Weekend to Lillian!