The Telegram (St. John's)
America’s oldest man was born in St. John’s
James Foster Mccoubrey is reported to be the oldest man in the U.S., but his roots trace to Newfoundland.
Mccoubrey, now living in the San Fransisco Bay area of California, was born in St. John’s, according to his daughter, Pat Salveson. Mccoubrey has hearing difficulties and finds it too difficult to speak on the phone, Salveson said.
He turns 111 in September and reportedly gained the distinction of being the oldest documented U.S. man when Shelby Harris, 111, of Illinois died this summer. There are several women who are older in the U.S.
As for the honour of being the oldest American man, Salveson said he laughs and says, “Where did you get this? … It’s a bunch of malarkey.”
But she said a doctor working with the Gerontology Research Group took a hair follicle sample and confirmed his age.
The year McCoubrey was born, Queen Victoria had just died and the Boer War was still being fought in South Africa. Three months after McCoubrey’s birth, Guglielmo Marconi received the first transatlantic radio signal on Signal Hill from the United Kingdom.
McCoubrey has lived through two world wars, the Great Depression, the shift from horse and buggy to cars, all the missions to space and the technological revolution. McCoubrey began using a computer around age 93 and just gave it up a few years ago.
He lives in the Salvesons’ home, makes his bed each day and uses only a cane to navigate the stairs.
McCoubrey left the province as a toddler, more than a century ago, when his family moved to Halifax, N.S. When his father, a sea captain, died in his early 30s of tuberculosis, his mother, Jennie, remarried and settled on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S. and was once a house mother at Harvard University.
McCoubrey was about eight when he moved to Cambridge, Mass. He had just one sibling, a brother, Charles, who died at age 93.
For years, McCoubrey wanted to revisit Newfoundland and St. John’s and has maintained a lifetime interest, keeping up with news of the province, his daughter said. He has revisited Halifax, but never made it to Newfoundland. He talked about it for years, but after his wife became sick, the trip failed to materialize.
He often talked about the clean air and scenery of Newfoundland, but also mentioned hard times, Salveson said.
He has revisited Halifax, but never
made it to Newfoundland. He talked about it for years, but after his wife became sick, the
trip failed to materialize. He often talked about the clean air and scenery of Newfoundland, but also mentioned hard times, Salveson said.
Love in Boston
McCoubrey met his wife, Rose, at a canoe club on the Charles River in Boston. They married in 1923, roaring off for a lakeside honeymoon with McCoubrey at the handlebars of an early Harley Davidson and his bride in the sidecar.
McCoubrey, then a motorcycle insurance broker, knew the proprietors of the now famed motorcycle company and recently contributed original posters for the 100th anniversary of the brand.
The McCoubreys raised Pat, their only child, in the Boston area, where James ran an oil delivery and oil burner business and retired at age 62 — half a century ago.
He left school after Grade 8 to become an office boy in the president’s office of a Boston insurance company, but attended night school to finish high school and business studies.
After retirement, the McCoubreys spent six months of the year at their beloved summer home in Woodstock, Conn.
The couple would make the crosscountry trek twice a year to visit Pat and her husband Jim, an oil company geologist who eventually was posted to and retired in California.
The McCoubreys were married for 69 years when Rose died at age 90.
So what’s the secret to McCoubrey’s longevity?
Salveson said he was always active and trim, staying busy at his work, as well as chores around his summer home, and he walked and rowed. And in years past, he always enjoyed sips of Scotch on the weekends and, for only a short period, smoked a pipe occasionally. Lately he tends to only have his Scotch on special occasions.
“He certainly wasn’t a health nut, but we had well-prepared food, fresh fruit and vegetables,” Salveson said.
He was always a great reader until failing eyesight cut his time down to 15-20 minutes a day.
Salveson also said McCoubrey enjoys almost wrinkle-free skin, a trait he passed on to her.
Plans for his mid-September birthday include a quiet gathering with family — he has two grandchildren and four greatgrandchildren.