Frances Banks, a World War II Army nurse who became a respected nursing director, had a remarkable life that began and ended with a pandemic.

Frances Banks, who was born during the Spanish flu pandemic and served as a nurse in World War II, died in her hometown of Cape Elizabeth from COVID-19. Courtesy of the Jordan family

Banks was born during the Spanish flu in 1918. And she died of COVID-19 on May 30 at Maine Medical Center in Portland. She was 101.

Banks was a longtime Cape Elizabeth resident and a direct descendant of the town’s original 17th century settlers.

She was born July 15, 1918, a daughter of Raymond and Vesta Jordan.

Banks was remembered this week as a strong, independent and resilient woman, and a matriarch of the Jordan family.

“We all looked up to her,” said her nephew, Kevin Jordan of Cape Elizabeth. “She was a woman, a person that just had an aura of royalty about her. You could tell there was something special and important about her. Everyone kind of revered and idolized her for that.”

Banks grew up in Cape Elizabeth, the oldest of seven children. Her nephew shared stories of Banks’ childhood, noting his grandmother may have had the Spanish flu when his aunt was born. More than 4,500 Mainers died during that pandemic, which lasted into 1919.

“She didn’t live with her parents for a while after her birth,” her nephew said. “Vesta had some illness that prevented her from taking care of Frances.”

She grew up on the Jordan family farm and attended Cape Elizabeth schools.

“She had a very fond memory as a small girl riding with her grandfather around the farm,” her nephew said. “Apparently, they would go out frequently and just inspect the property and see how things were growing. She talked about catching some women red-handed stealing apples from the apple trees. They tucked them into their shirts and claimed they didn’t. My great-grandfather accused them of stealing apples, and they denied it even though they could clearly see their shirts were stuffed with apples. She used to tell that story with a chuckle.”

Banks graduated from Cape Elizabeth High School in 1936 and State Street School of Nursing in Portland in 1939.

Banks enlisted in the Army with dreams of traveling the world and was initially stationed at Fort Williams, right in her hometown. She was commissioned as a lieutenant and served during World War II with four of her younger brothers.

After nine months, she was transferred to India near Calcutta. She served at the 94th Station Hospital as head nurse supporting the 462nd Bombardment Group that was flying B-29 Superfortress missions over the “Burma Hump” into China and Japan.

Frances Banks at her 100th birthday party. Courtesy of the Jordan family

“She told me one fond memory of taking off with a pilot for a weekend to Kashmir,” her nephew said. “She said it was paradise. She was proud of her service, but she was modest about it as well.”

Banks served as director of nursing at the Maine Eye and Ear Infirmary in Portland. She also served as director of a statewide program for practical nursing based in Augusta.

She went on to become director of the licensed practical nursing program at Aroostook State Teachers College in Presque Isle. She also served as chief administrator of the Aroostook Health Center and skilled nursing facility in Mars Hill.

“She had a distinguished nursing career,” her nephew said. “She was a true leader.”

While living in Aroostook County, she met Athill Banks, a well-known potato farmer. They were married in 1958 and lived in Mars Hill. He died in 1978 after 20 years of marriage.

“They seemed to have a very good life together,” her nephew said. “They were fishing companions and hunting companions. They seemed to genuinely respect and like each other’s company.”

Banks was active in the Mars Hill community and lived independently there into her 90s. She was a member of United Methodist Church of Mars Hill and a driving force behind establishment of the Mars Hill Community Cupboard. She was recognized more than once as “Woman of the Year,” her nephew said.

Banks, who was the only Jordan in her family to leave Cape Elizabeth, had a close relationship with her siblings.

“She always showed truly genuine interest in family,” her nephew said. “She always knew what her nieces and nephews were up to. She was always asking about others.”

Her brother, Lester Jordan of Cape Elizabeth, who shares the same birthday as Banks, said Wednesday he’ll miss celebrating his birthday with her.

“The whole family was proud of her for what she did in the service and her nursing career,” her brother said. “I loved her. I’m going to miss her.”

Banks moved back to Cape Elizabeth about 10 years ago to live with her younger sister, Clara Appleton. Earlier this year, the sisters went to live at Cape Memory Care in Cape Elizabeth. Appleton has dementia.

Banks, who was just shy of her 102nd birthday, had a Skype call with her nephew and brother every Tuesday.

“She was one of the sharpest people you would ever meet,” his nephew said. “She was still very sharp right to the end. She had the full faculties of her mind. She did have a stubborn streak, but it was sort of affectionate, though.”

Banks and Appleton are among the 60 residents and 23 staff at Cape Memory Care who tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Six residents, including Banks, have died. Appleton is recovering from the virus and is doing well, Lester Jordan said.

Bank’s cousin, Norman Jordan Jr., also died of COVID-19 on April 19 at the Maine Veterans’ Home in Scarborough.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, noted Banks’ death during a televised briefing this week, although he did not identify her by name.

“I wanted to take a moment to share her story as a reminder to us that each and every statistic is a person,” Dr. Shah said. “Behind each and every one of those statistics is a story.”

Banks’ full obituary is scheduled to appear in the Maine Sunday Telegram.

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