VICTORIA - Canada’s oldest person who was known for celebrating her birthday with a cold beer has died just one month and one day shy of her 114th birthday.
Merle Barwis lived at The Priory residential care facility in Victoria, B.C., and held the oldest-person title for almost two years died Nov. 22.
Her grandson Terry Barwis, 65, a resident of the nearby community of Sooke, said she had few tips to share with her family about longevity.
"She said there’s nothing you can do about it," he said. "If you’re old, you’re old. And if you’re young, you’re young."
Variations of her favourite piece of advice included, "Mind your own business and don’t worry about too much."
Merle was born Dec. 23, 1900, in Des Moines, Iowa. Her father was a horse rancher and she moved to Abbey, Sask., in her teens. She met a ranch hand, Dewey Barwis, at a dance and they married in her parents’ parlour.
Dewey got a job as a train station agent and the couple moved around Western Canada with their three children.
Merle, who was often left alone with the kids, learned how to stretch a dollar.
"I know sometimes she did without, so that we could have things," said her daughter Esther Gaff, 88, from Medicine Hat, Alta.
In 1952, Merle and Dewey retired to Sooke, where their son lived. Dewey died in 1966 and Merle never remarried.
Terry remembered waking up early Christmas mornings and seeing a light on at his grandmother’s house, which was on the same property. He and brother Richard spent the early morning there — Merle always had coffee on next to her bed — until their parents awoke.
His daughter Tara, now 41, phoned Merle every day after school for a full report on the soap operas.
"She called a spade a spade. But she was very loving — not in a mushy way, but hard loving. Like, 'I love you and that’s that,'" Tara said.
Merle loved to bake, said her grandson Richard. But she also got a kick out of ordering cakes out of the Sears catalogue, Tara said.
Merle took pleasure in the simple joys of life. In her 90s, Terry said, she liked cutting the grass.
"She cut half the lawn, sat down and had a cold beer, then cut the other half after she finished her bottle," Terry said.
She was pleased when she learned she was the oldest Canadian at age 112, Richard said.
"She thought that was pretty good. I asked if she wanted the prime minister (Stephen Harper) to come, and she said, 'I don’t want anything to do with Trudeau,'" he said.
Both of Merle’s parents lived into their 90s and she had a sister who lived to be over 100.
Merle outlived her two sons and two of her 10 grandchildren. She had 17 great grandchildren.
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