Mary Ayoob turned 100 last month to much fanfare from family and friends.

Though her name may not sound familiar to many, she is a star among the Lebanese community in Waterville.

The 5-foot-tall, white-haired beauty has spent a lifetime helping others, though her work has been under the radar and out of the spotlight.

A registered nurse who worked in hospitals, Ayoob also helped deliver many of her nieces and nephews, including Martha Coury Patterson, 72, of Waterville, who says her aunt is the oldest living person in the Lebanese community in Waterville.

“She has lived a life of service to others,” Patterson said. “Whenever anybody in the family has been sick or laid up, she’s been there for private care.”

Patterson visits Ayoob every day at her home, where an aide also comes in to help, though Ayoob is quite independent, uses a cane only part of the time and is sharp as a whip.

Patterson recalled when her first cousin, Darrell Joseph, a World War II veteran, was ill from cancer and Ayoob dropped everything to help.

“She gave up her whole nursing career to take care of him, and she’s done that with other members of the family,” Patterson said. “She’s done it with her heart and her soul.”

Ayoob grew up in Fort Fairfield in Aroostook County, one of five children of Lebanese immigrants.

She did her nurse’s training at Queens Hospital, which is now Mercy Hospital, in Portland, and then moved back to Fort Fairfield to work in the hospital there. She nursed in places such as California and Texas, and after her mother died, she moved to and settled in Waterville, where many of her relatives lived, and summered in the Belgrade Lakes.

Ayoob never married or had children, so she lavished gifts and love upon her nieces and nephews — and there were many.

“She used all of her money, taking us to the movies and out for ice cream and buying us the best Christmas gifts,” Patterson said.

Born July 9, 1918, in Fort Fairfield about 3 miles from the Canadian border, Ayoob was a happy child. Her father owned a restaurant and her mother cooked and cleaned, made soap and choke cherry jelly, picked blueberries and raised the children.

“I had four brothers and sisters,” she said. “My mother and father bought a house on Main Street and we grew up there. My mother had a big garden out back that she shared with a friend of hers from downtown and they worked in the garden, and during potato picking time they went potato picking.”

Life was a lot simpler then.

“We played on the lawn, had the neighbors over to play hide-and-seek. We ran up and down the hill and went to Caribou on the choo-choo train and visited our friends over there in the Lebanese community. There was no TV. We were outdoors, playing hopscotch and all these different games. We used to have a lot of picnics. We’d go to the lakes and play together, and the grownups would picnic.”

Ayoob talked about her life on a hot August Monday afternoon, sitting at her kitchen table with Patterson, who visits her two hours each day.

After Ayoob moved to Waterville many years ago, she worked at Seton and Thayer hospitals. She loved the city, where her relatives owned Joseph’s Market on Front Street, and she attended the nearby St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church.

“It’s lovely, very nice,” she said of Waterville. “I stayed with my sister Annie and my sister Cecilia, who came down from Fort Fairfield, and she bought a camp out to Belgrade, and we used to go out there most of the summer.”

In July, Patterson threw Ayoob a 100th birthday party at the Belgrade Community Center, attended by more than 100 friends and relatives from all over the country. Though her siblings and all her classmates from her Fort Fairfield High School Class of 1936 are all gone now, Ayoob has 32 great-, 30 great-great- and several great-great-great-nieces and -nephews, in addition to 12 nieces and nephews.

“It was beautiful,” Ayoob said of her party. “Lovely. Too much. I was tired! There were so many people I hadn’t seen in so long.”

Patterson, with whom she is close, also grew up in Fort Fairfield and moved to Waterville in 1969. She lavishes love on Ayoob the way Ayoob has always done on her and the rest of the family.

“She is a very, very loving person to all people she meets,” Patterson said. “Very humble, very gentle, very kind and very prayerful and nonjudgmental with all of her nieces and nephews, and she doted on them. She’s humble, and that’s her gift to people. Everybody in the family tries to live like that and honor her. I think that’s a big deal.”

Ayoob said she has had a good life, and she attributes much of that happiness to having a large, close family.

“I love everybody and I hope everybody loves me,” she said.

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter 30 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]e.com. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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