At 112, a Sox fan to the end
State's oldest person dies having shared team's triumph
At 109, Kathryn Gemme had been a Red Sox fan longer than anyone in Fenway Park when Johnny Pesky stopped by to chat in May 2004.
"Kate asked Pesky how old he was," said state Senator Marc R. Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat who had arranged her trip to the game and was close by. The former Red Sox shortstop was 84 at the time.
"She said, 'Ah, Johnny, you're just a kid.' "
The oldest person in the state, Mrs. Gemme had of late become the eighth-eldest in the United States and the 20th in the world.
When she turned 112 in November, she listened to the longevity statistics tabulated by Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of supercentenarians worldwide, then exclaimed, "Imagine that!"
Mrs. Gemme had cheered on Babe Ruth when he played for the Red Sox and attended her first game in Fenway as a teenager, shortly after the park opened in 1912. She died Friday in Nemasket Healthcare Center in Middleborough.
As the oldest Red Sox fan, she found that age had its perks. While many people traveled far to see the 2004 World Series trophy in person, team representatives brought it to Mrs. Gemme for her 111th birthday, on Nov. 9, 2005.
"She had her picture taken with the trophy," said her daughter, Lucille Findley of Jacksonville, Ill. "That was a treasure. That was a big day of her life."
"It was remarkable for us to visit someone who was actually a true testament to what a lifelong Red Sox fan really means, someone who stuck with us the entirety of those 86 years," said Marty Ray of the team's public relations department, who was with Mrs. Gemme that day.
"She was an eternal Red Sox fan in the truest sense of the word," Ray said.
Long before any of today's players were alive, Mrs. Gemme used to sit next to a crystal radio set summer after summer and listen to the games, filling page after page with notes about each at-bat.
"She always had a yellow legal pad in her lap and she would write every play -- runs, hits, errors, she kept everything," her daughter said. "She knew all the team members, she knew their batting averages. She'd yell at them, 'Do it, do it! You can do it!' "
When her husband, Ovella, returned home from work, "we'd sit down at the table and she would read it to him," her daughter said.
Born in Chicopee on Nov. 9, 1894, Kathryn R. Moreau graduated from Chicopee High School in 1913.
"When I spoke with her last summer, she was remembering that she and her sister, Lillian, had a combo and used to play for barn dances," said a granddaughter, Diane McLaughlin, of Fort Collins, Colo. "Her sister played the mandolin."
She attended secretarial school, and married Ovella Gemme. They moved to Stoughton during the Depression, when one of his friends opened a factory. During World War II, Mrs. Gemme worked in a factory, too, helping to prepare parachutes to slow the descent of bombs.
"I can remember her going there -- it was her patriotic duty, she just had to go," her daughter said. "Poor mother, she came home with no fingernails. She learned to tie knots on the string for the parachutes."
The Gemmes raised two daughters, Lucille and Lillian. Mrs. Gemme outlived her husband, who died in the 1960s, and Lillian. Paul Findley, her son-in-law, attributed her longevity to "a simple, quiet life" -- and neither smoking nor drinking.
After Ovella Gemme died, Daniel Costello, a neighbor whose family lived upstairs, helped Mrs. Gemme continue to live at home, her family said. Through the years, she spent considerable time with her close friend, Bernadette Hemingway, who was with Mrs. Gemme when the World Series trophy was brought by.
"It's a great fulfillment in her life to see the trophy," Hemingway said at the time.
"She was great fun to be around," McLaughlin said. "I wish I could have been the same age and lived next door. I would have loved to be her best friend if I wasn't her granddaughter."
As Christmas approached, Mrs. Gemme kept asking if the holiday had arrived.
"I believe she didn't want to let go until after that," said Sharon Gosling, activities director at Nemasket. "I'd tell her when Christmas was, then she'd smile and close her eyes."
Last week, her health failing, Mrs. Gemme said goodbye to Gosling on Thursday. She died the next day. "She knew the time was here. She went very peacefully," Gosling said.
In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, Mrs. Gemme leaves another granddaughter; two grandsons; and seven great-grandchildren.
A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. tomorrow in Sacred Heart Church in Middleborough. Burial will be in St. Patrick Cemetery in Chicopee.