Teacher. Writer. Survivor. United Empire Loyalist. Born Nov. 12, 1908, in Aulac, N.B.; died March 30, 2017, in Halifax, of natural causes; aged 108.
Before my grandmother celebrated her 100th birthday, she claimed the frailty of great age would not allow her to say much. On the day, she delivered a pithy speech about the importance of "faith, family and friends," brandishing the same white gloves she had worn when she met King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in Charlottetown in 1939.
As for being frail, when interviewed for her centennial by The Chronicle Herald, she asked if the reporter had brought a suitcase, because she intended to talk for a week!
The younger of two sisters, Evelyn epitomized resilience. She set a family record by reaching 108 years, 4 months and 18 days, overcoming in her life the complications of a badly broken arm at the age of 8, the Spanish flu at 10, and then recovering from tuberculosis in her early 20s by living outdoors for more than a year – all in an age without antibiotics.
In her teens, Evelyn decided that Nellie (her middle name) was more of a cow's name, so she changed it to Natalie and then outlived everyone who knew different, only confessing the deception in time for her centennial.
She played the role of Baptist pastor's wife until her husband, Rev. Dr. Harvey L. Denton, died in 1965. Missing him every day, she stepped into new roles with determination. She taught high-school English at Halifax West High School, keeping in touch with some students right to the end of her life. With three children of her own – Thomas, Carol and Evelyn – she became matriarch to progeny scattered across the country.
As our family historian, she cheerfully wrote thousands of words based on her research travelling to cemeteries and archives all over the Maritimes – but without bothering to include footnotes to record where she found the information.
A proud official descendant of United Empire Loyalists, Evelyn was perhaps the oldest surviving one in Canada, regaling listeners with how one ancestor (Gabriel Purdy) narrowly escaped hanging by George Washington, who then used the Purdy house as his headquarters in White Plains, N.Y.
Despite failing eyesight, she saw what she wanted to see, and invariably shared pungent opinions on current politics, world affairs and life in general.
Angered by the decision not to vaccinate the residents of her seniors' home during a flu epidemic a few years ago, Evelyn somehow got through to the provincial minister of health on the phone to complain – and was first in line when the vaccination team arrived. Past 100, she was relieved of her duty operating the elevator at her senior's home when she upset the other (much younger) residents by announcing the second floor stop as "Death Row," explaining the only way off was in a box.
Evelyn took her first selfie (seen here) at 106, but the picture I will always remember is one I never saw. Her first weekend trip home in 1927 from Acadia University, where she was studying Arts, required attendance at the local Baptist church where her father was a deacon.
Hand on one hip, in true flapper fashion, she swaggered down the aisle to the deacon's family pew, her stylishly unlaced, open galoshes clanking as she went.
Forced to leave university because of her tuberculosis, she persevered and finally received her bachelor of arts from Acadia when she was 60.
Evelyn's unique spirit is missed by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and many friends, who still can't believe she is gone.
Peter Harvey Denton is Evelyn's eldest grandchild