LITCHFIELD — On Feb. 15, 1923, a country doctor rode on horseback to a dairy farm in West Gardiner to help May Caldwell Thompson give birth. Difficulties with the delivery led the doctor to use forceps, irreparably damaging the child’s right eye.

Eugene Thompson, at his Litchfield home recently, holds the cane that the town presents to its oldest citizen. The original Boston Post Cane has been lost, but this sterling silver-headed one is used to carry on the tradition. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

From the moment he was born, Maxwell Eugene “Gene” Thompson persevered amid countless hardships, including the loss of his eye, contracting meningitis, fighting on the front lines of five major battles during World War II, building a home using only hand tools and running a wildlife rehabilitation facility with his wife Jean. Now, he’s less than a year away from his 100th birthday, which he plans to celebrate by running the 100-yard-dash.

Thompson also is the newest holder of Litchfield’s Boston Post Cane, awarded to the town’s oldest resident. At 99 years old, he tries to always keep a positive attitude.

“What else is there? I live from day to day. I’m getting close to 100 years old,” he said in an interview, adding that he’d feel even better if the Red Sox won.

When asked if there was a secret to living a long life, he said to “stay off the booze.”

He had a busy childhood on the farm and helped his father James Thompson on his dairy route.


“(Thompson) would often go with him on Saturdays and he would stay with this horse and wagon while his father delivered butter,” said Thompson’s daughter, Anne Thompson.

He enlisted in the United States Army shortly after graduating from Gardiner High School in 1942. He and two of his brothers all fought in Europe at the same time, but his brother John was killed in action.

He spent the beginning of his military career on American bases, where he contracted meningitis, a brain infection.

“He was called up for limited service because he only has one eye,” said Anne. “After his meningitis, they put him back into basic training again for infantry. Somehow the idea of limited service got passed by.”

But Gene Thompson didn’t want to just stay on the base.

“I guess at some point he said, ‘Either give me something to do or send me home,'” Anne said. “He said that to whoever was in charge at the barracks and putting him through basic training over and over again. I think he was just ready to do something else. So they sent him to Europe.”



This 1987 file photo shows Eugene Thompson and his late wife Jean Thompson when they ran Jean’s Jungle wildlife rehabilitation center in Litchfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

Thompson served in the 551st field artillery battalion, where he drove a tank and fought on the front lines in several European countries.

“At war’s end, I had five battle stars for my five major battles that were fought on land in Europe,” he wrote in a notebook after the war. “Not bad for a farm boy from Maine.”

Anne said her father only started talking about his experience in the war in the 1980s when her sister gave him a notebook and some pens and told him to begin writing his stories down.

She said he had no apprehension once he was given the notebook.

In one of many harrowing passages, he described his experience during his first day at Normandy and how he and his fellow soldiers held their breath out of fear that the planes would drop behind enemy lines.


“We had not dug in, but I had put up a tent. I got out from resting there and moved to the howitzer position,” he wrote, “and the shell landed outside of my tent. Welcome to World War II.”


After the war, Thompson met his future wife Jean at a Christmas party at the Longfellow School in West Gardiner, where she taught first through fourth grade. They married in 1948, and three years later moved to Litchfield.

Eugene Thompson with a raccoon at Jean’s Jungle wildlife rehabilitation center in a 1985 Kennebec Journal clipping. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Their first home was a log cabin on the shore of Pleasant Pond that Thompson built himself using only hand tools. They later moved to a home on Jungle Lane, where Thompson still resides.

He worked at the Togus veterans facility for exactly 30 years, beginning on Aug. 27, 1948, and retiring on Aug. 27, 1978. And though he was officially retired, Thompson did anything but slow down.

A local game warden in the late 1970s brought an injured fawn to Eugene and Jean’s home, and this quickly snowballed into the creation of “Jean’s Jungle,” in the mid-1980s — a wildlife rehabilitation facility ran out of their home. The “jungle” grew to house as many as 100 or more animals at a time, with major influxes during the summer months, when they would often receive boxes of raccoons, baby skunks and injured baby birds that fell out of nests.


The wildlife facility began to slow down in the mid-80s and lasted up until the late 1990s. During that time it was featured in several local newspapers and TV stations, including ABC’s “20/20” and CNN.

“It’s just been such an interesting adventure for them,” said Anne.

She said her mother suffered a stroke in 1970, which left her in a wheelchair with no use of her right side, adding that much of the work at the facility fell to her father.

Jean lived to be 91 years old and died in February of last year.


When asked about meaningful events and people in his nearly century-long life, Thompson only mentioned her.


Eugene Thompson, at his Litchfield home recently, holds the cane that the town presents to its oldest citizen. The original Boston Post Cane has been lost, but this sterling silver-headed one is used to carry on the tradition. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“Put Jean at the top of the list,” he said.

Even at 99 years old, Anne said her father is still in good shape.

“He does use a walker now to get around, but that’s mostly just so he doesn’t fall,” she said, “but he’s been in really good health. He hardly takes any kind of medication at all. He takes two prescriptions and they’re both incredibly low doses. His physical health is really good.”

Litchfield’s official Boston Post Cane, according to selectperson Rayna Leibowitz, was lost years ago. To rekindle the tradition, her mother, Muriel Bonin, who also served on the town select board, purchased a new cane for the town. She also ensured that the cane would go to the oldest resident, as the previous tradition was that the cane was only given to men. Its last owner was Helen Lane, who lived to be 104.

“It’s a nice cane,” said Thompson.

“I think (Thompson) was surprised to learn he was the oldest person in town,” said Anne. “I think he doesn’t always realize that 99 is a significant age to live to.”

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