Charleane Corrigan: To 100 and beyond

A centenarian looks back.

Photo by Michael Cummo

Charleane Corrigan was born on Jan. 22, 1914, in Waynesville, N.C., a small town nestled in the mountains west of Charlotte.

“As I look over my life, it was a really good one,” she recently said to The Times during a visit to her home at Windemere. “It was never bad — I have had many friends.”

She said Waynesville was the ideal place for a little girl to grow up. “I have always had a certain fascination toward the mountains,” she said; “they are quite humbling.”

When Charleane was 4, her mother, Eugenia, died during the worldwide flu epidemic. “A child without a mother is a lonely child,” she said. “I felt alone.” She was very close to her younger brother, Charles Jr. Her father, Charles, was an archaeologist and spent much of his time out west working with an Indian museum, so Charleane’s grandmother took care of both children.

“I went to the grammar school down the street from my grandmother’s,” she remembered. “My grandmother had a cow, and I remember she always made hot biscuits. My uncle had the first car. He parked it in front of the house. We started it; he took us for a ride around the block.”

Her father remarried and moved the family to the Bronx when Charleane was 14.

“I don’t remember the Great Depression. The museum gave my father an apartment and everything was supplied. It didn’t really affect us.”

Charleane got a job at Price Waterhouse, an accounting firm. “I got $100 a month — that was a big deal. That was a lot back in those days. The news was only 2 cents. The train was a nickel,” she said.

She would eventually work as a receptionist in a doctor’s office, then for 17 years at the international humanitarian agency CARE.

Martin Carrigan’s “Irish twinkle and jet-black hair” caught Charleane’s eye. He was an immigrant, and the manager of a successful car insurance company. The couple would take long walks around the city and go to the movies. The two courted, and soon after married, when Charleane was 23. “My husband was Irish, meat and potatoes,” Charleane told The Times last year. “I loved having company so I could make other things. Especially wet coconut cake. That was my favorite.”

“World War II was a sad time,” she remembered. “I hope there is not another. Men just have to have war. I remember my husband was in it. He was in the Merchant Marine, and he was on the Atlantic run between New York and Paris. He had seen Paris being bombed. It was very dangerous. It was a sad time, so many people getting killed. Life is what it is.”

Martin and Charleane were married almost 60 years; he passed away 18 years ago.

Charleane’s daughter, Judith (Cunniffe), who lives in Oak Bluffs, brought her to live on Martha’s Vineyard seven years ago. She also had five grandchildren (one of whom is deceased) and nine great-grandchildren. Last year she celebrated her 100th birthday, surrounded by friends and family.

“My main interest is reading, I love mysteries,” I said. “I still read every night before I go to sleep.”

Living 100 years is a rare feat. After a century’s worth of living, Charleane’s best advice is to “see things as they are. I’m not a dreamer. I just acknowledge things. Before I go to bed, if there is something I should have done and I can’t do it, I make myself forget it. Because if you dwell on it, if it’s something you can’t do, forget it and do it the next day.”