On her 100th birthday Daisy Nanton participated in a Zoom call with 45 friends and family members who tuned in from Montserrat, Canada, England, St. Kitts and several other places. Donning a spiffy red blazer, pearl earrings and sleek sunglasses, she sat in a gold-trimmed chair that resembled a throne.
“You look great, Miss Daisy,” one Zoom participant declared. “You look like a queen!”
“I do?” she asked semi-bashfully. “Well, I try. It’s the makeup. I don’t go anywhere without my lipstick.”
Miss Daisy’s cousin Claudina Piper-Drayton – on a video call from Trinidad – thanked her for being a mentor. “After my mother passed away when I was 13 you taught me to sew, you taught me to cook. You were a great role model,” said Claudina, now 92.
For more than an hour Miss Daisy held court from her Baltimore home, cracking jokes and exchanging stories. No one could have ever guessed she was recovering from COVID-19. She received the positive diagnosis four days before her birthday. It was ironic that fate dealt her one final hurdle on the way to her prestigious centennial.
“I was scared because my cousin in Antigua recently passed away from COVID,” she says. “I said, ‘Lord, my birthday is coming up.’ But I’m feeling much better.”
Centenarians are often asked about their secret to long life. Some cite healthy living. Miss Daisy says she eats “whatever I like” and admits to a weakness for chocolate. She “loves” champagne and enjoys an occasional Guinness.
It’s her devout faith, she says, that’s her main sustenance. “I’m a staunch Roman Catholic.”
Miss Daisy has survived two major hurricanes (1924 and 1928), a near-death experience in 1953 and a serious car accident decades later. She has met Queen Elizabeth and shared cocktails with cricket legend Sir Garfield Sobers. She has run her own business and worked for others. She raised five children, adopted a goddaughter, and had a 58-year marriage that ended when her husband passed away in 1999. She has outlived her six siblings even though she was the eldest.
Her fascinating journey has been defined by resilience, humor, gratitude and – as she proudly proclaims – divine providence.
Miss Daisy was born Daisy Cynthia Dyer on January 28, 1922 in Montserrat. She was the first of seven children born to Patrick and Josephine “Josie” Dyer (nee’ Browne). Her siblings (in order) were Fred, Alice, Josie, Halmond, Edna and Ruby.
“I was a breech baby,” Miss Daisy says. “My mother told me I would be lucky.”
The family lived across from Glendon Hospital in Upper George Street in an area that was once part of Dagenham Estate. Mr. Dyer was a manager at the estate – which produced Sea Island cotton – and also a preacher. Mrs. Dyer was a housewife.
On September 12, 1928, Montserrat was struck by a Category 4 hurricane that killed 42 people on the island (1,100 perished in Guadeloupe, according to reports). Although she was only 6 years old Miss Daisy remembers the storm vividly.
“A lot of the houses in Ryner’s Village got blown away and many people came to our house for shelter. My sister Edna was only 6 months old, and they had to tie her to my mother so she would not get blown away. My father believed we were all going to die and he started preaching the funeral [rites].”
The family survived, then relocated to St. Kitts in 1933 when Miss Daisy’s father was reassigned there to oversee a sugar plantation. The following year Miss Daisy injured her shoulder in a fall and was taken by boat from St. Kitts to Dominica, the closest island that had an X-ray machine. She eventually healed. The Dyers returned to Montserrat in 1938 when Miss Daisy was 16. She had completed secondary school in St. Kitts.
At age 18 she married James “Jim” Nanton, a sales clerk at M.S. Osborne Ltd. The couple had five children – all girls: Cynthia (aka Patty), Pamela, Joy, Carol (aka Toni) and Kathy.
Asked if she was a strict mother, Miss Daisy said only in certain areas. “I believe in manners and etiquette,” she says. “Also they had to say their prayers and do well in school.”
In 1953, Miss Daisy was a member of the Netball Association. A regional tournament was held in Montserrat and she was assigned to take care of the squad from Grenada. One day she visited the team at its quarters near Jubilee Town. She requested a cup of coffee. After she drank it she began feeling unwell and eventually passed out. A doctor was summoned. When he checked Miss Daisy’s vital signs she had no pulse. He gave her an injection and she regurgitated and improved but still felt sick for some time.
“I had to go to Barbados to see another doctor. It took me a year to catch myself. To this day I have no idea what was in that coffee,” says Miss Daisy, who believes whatever happened was purely accidental.
Around 1952 Miss Daisy opened a small business on George Street in which she sold mostly women’s garments. She also dabbled in making hats – a craft she saw one of her aunts perform – but didn’t take it seriously at first. However in 1955 during a visit to New York she took a class in hat design at the Traphagen School of Fashion in Manhattan. Although she didn’t complete the course she learned the basics and eventually became proficient.
On January 6, 1966, a fire on George Street destroyed several businesses, including Miss Daisy’s shop. Making matters worse she had no insurance. But she caught a big break just a month later when Queen Elizabeth visited Montserrat. “They had luncheons and different events and the women were always required to wear hats,” Miss Daisy explains.
She ended up making many of those hats, and the financial boost allowed her to re-open her shop. She also got to meet the Queen during an exhibition fair at Hyde Park in Harris Village.
“I was part of the YWCA and we had a booth at the fair,” she says. “The Queen walked by, then turned around and came straight over to me. I was dumbfounded. She asked me a few questions about the YWCA. She was very pretty and her skin was so beautiful.”
CHANGE OF SCENERY
In the late 1960s Miss Daisy was hired as a manager at Olveston House, a guest inn that also featured a gourmet restaurant. Olveston House later gained fame as the residence of renowned Beatles producer and Air Studios founder Sir George Martin. “I worked there for 10 years,” she says. “Then one day I found out the place was sold. I left and went to Connecticut in early 1979 and spent time with my daughter Patty.”
While in Connecticut, Miss Daisy applied for permanent residency and was stunned when her visa application was approved in a mere few months. On a whim she visited a local department store in Hartford and asked for an application.
“I had never filled out an application in my life,” she says. “They hired me on the spot, trained me for about two weeks and paid me. The store was called G. Fox.”
A year later Miss Daisy moved to Baltimore, where her daughter Joy resided. She got a job at a department store called Lexington Lady and also worked for a time as an in-home caretaker.
Her husband eventually joined her in Baltimore, where he died at age 94. In recent years Miss Daisy has split time with her daughters, including Pam, who operated Carib World Travel in Montserrat starting in 1973, then relocated to Antigua following the volcanic eruption in the 1990s.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
In 2021, a study revealed that of the 7.8 billion people on earth, only about 316,000 were centenarians. Miss Daisy says she never thought she would reach the milestone, but she is eternally grateful. Best of all she is still lucid with a great memory.
Miss Daisy has also been a study in resourcefulness. She made wedding dresses for her daughters Pam and Joy – “I used peau de soie fabric [matte satin]” – and also designed the evening gown Pam wore in 1963 when she was crowned Montserrat’s Festival Queen. She also chaperoned 1965 Festival queen Rose Willock, who calls Miss Daisy “my second mother.”
Once an avid traveler, Miss Daisy lives a quiet life these days. She has seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. She has a Facebook account and speaks daily via What’s App. She has made countless friends due to her congenial personality and positive attitude.
“I don’t let much worry me,” says Miss Daisy, who concedes that like all God’s children she has her faults, the biggest being the art of forgiveness.
“If someone does me a kindness, I never forget,” she says. “But if they do me something bad I don’t forget either, especially if it’s very hurtful. I have to work on that.”
She says one of the worst aspects of getting older is losing loved ones. Of the 18 people in her wedding photo only she and her cousin Claudina are still around.
Asked if luck has played a role in her longevity, Miss Daisy said:
“I think we create our own luck. I plan my life through the Holy Spirit. This might sound strange but if I have something bothering me I hear a voice – not an actual voice but a [spiritual message] – telling me what to do. God has been good to me.”
“I’m not lucky,” she says. “I’m blessed.”