AYER – Roberta Winslow was presented with the Boston Post Cane at the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night and although it’s not certain she’s the town’s oldest resident — which was the top criterion for the honor when the tradition was established by the former Boston Post newspaper in 1909 — she certainly meets the current criteria that Ayer’s BPC Committee uses today.
That is, she’s “at least 90” and has been a town resident more than 20 years, living in a “fixed and principal” home here. And, of course, that the person selected to receive the honor accepts. She did.
Winslow still lives in the Washington Street home she shared with her late husband, Ralph, for 75 years. Their seven children were raised there.
Today, her grown offspring may have “spread to the four winds,” her son Ralph said, but they visit their mother and check in often. “This is still home,” he said.
One might say she’s the quintessential Ayer resident.
Living in the same house for 78 years, with her kids in the local public schools and her many interests, Roberta Winslow has rubbed elbows with just about everyone else who might claim that status as she frequented yard sales near and far, offered her paintings for sale, welcomed her kids’ friends into their bustling household and as a 4H leader taught generations of 4H members to cook, sew and master the art of public speaking, according to her oldest daughter, Barbara.
“I’m so thankful for my mother…” she said, describing how she and other kids in the 4H program benefited from her mother’s leadership. “We learned to cook, sew, do 4H demonstrations.”
Addressing a crowd was “very scary for me,” she said. But practice paid off, as it did for baking. She learned how to bake a prize-winning apple pie and still has the five dollar bill she won in that contest.
Selectman Chairman Scott Houde sketched historic highlight’s from Roberta Winslow’s eventful life.
When Roberta Edna (Taylor) Winslow was born, June 21, 1919, in Lowell, modern indoor plumbing was a luxury, he said. Today, it’s commonplace. Over her lifetime she’s seen many such marvels, from technological advances in science and medicine to the moon landing and beyond. She’s seen 18 U.S. presidents in the White House, from Woodrow Wilson to Donald Trump and watched eras come and go, from the “roaring twenties,” women’s suffrage (women gained the right to vote before her first birthday,) to the great depression; prohibition, the dust bowl, the “great hurricane” of 1938, WWII, Korea, Vietnam and the Berlin Wall, which was built and taken down in her lifetime.
Tuesday night marked another momentous occasion. Surrounded by family members, friends and a roomful of well-wishers, she was presented with the Boston Post Cane by the Board of Selectmen, recognizing not only her century mark but also her remarkably longtime residency in the town of Ayer: 78 years and counting.
A biopic prepared by Warren Winslow, her eldest son, provided personal details.
Born Roberta Edna Taylor on June 21, 1919 in Lowell, her parents were Isabelle and William. Her father ran a general store at Nuttings Lake in Billerica, where she helped out during the summer. She graduated from Lowell High School in 1937, went to work in a local textile mill and in 1941 married Ralph Winslow and moved to Ayer. They were married for 75 years and had seven children: Warren, Barbara, Ralph Donald, Lauren, Phyllis, Joyce and Isabelle.
A homemaker, antique dealer, flea marketer, seamstress, dress maker, artist, painter and 4-H leader, Mrs. Winslow’s favorite things include family, beach vacations, yard sales, and sewing.
Daughter Lauren said her mother’s secret to longevity is her dedication to life itself. “Every morning, she’s on a mission to live another day…and not to let anything get in the way,” of that goal, she said.
The cane Mrs. Winslow took home with her is a “replica” of the original, ebony cane with a 14-carat gold crown, which is safely stored in the Town Clerk’s vault, Houde said, noting that Ayer is one of the relatively few communities – 141 across New England — given Boston Post canes more than a century ago that still continue the tradition today.
Selectman Jannis Livingston presented Mrs.Winslow with a bouquet of flowers. “You are an inspiration!” she said.
For her part, a smiling Roberta Winslow stood to speak, briefly. “Thank you all for coming…I can’t see you (due to an eye condition) or hear very well, but I know you’re here and I appreciate it,” she said.