I received the dreaded text message at 11:20 p.m. Sunday, April 30, 2023. It was simple and straight-forward. “Mom passed away at 10:30 p.m. tonight.” I was told a day earlier that Mrs. Daisy Nanton was in dire health but I held out hope for a miracle recovery. And though I knew her for just a little more than a year, the news hit me like a punch to the gut.
I first met Miss Daisy on January 28, 2022. It was during a Zoom call to celebrate her 100th birthday. I knew her daughter Pam but had never met Miss Daisy, who has lived in Baltimore since 1979. Pam sent me an invitation to the Zoom call, during which I was mainly an observer. However, when I witnessed the charm, humor and charisma of Miss Daisy as she interacted with about 45 friends and family, I decided I had to write a feature story on her life. Making matters more intriguing, Miss Daisy was recovering from COVID at the time, which necessitated the Zoom call in lieu of a party. But no one would have ever guessed, based on her graceful demeanor.
I interviewed her a few days later, and after my story was published, Miss Daisy and I stayed in touch. I would often call her to ask questions about Montserrat, such as some of the former businesses in Plymouth, the early years of Festival, other historic events, and even the characters in town. Born in 1922, she was witness to Montserrat’s evolution over almost a century. She always managed to provide information of interest.
It became somewhat of a symbiotic relationship because she loved telling stories and I thoroughly enjoyed listening to them. Sometimes she would phone me and simply say: “You like stories, right? I have a story for you.” That would always be punctuated by her customary giggle.
Miss Daisy was a walking archive. At times I would mention the name of someone from Montserrat’s past and she would say: “Give me a second.” She would pause for a few moments, like a computer retrieving data. “OK, I remember who that is now.” I once asked her about a controversial incident I heard about in Montserrat. “I know exactly what happened,” she said, “but you didn’t hear it from me, eh. [Giggle]”
More than her amazing memory and knowledge of Montserrat’s history and people, I was inspired by her zest for life, her ability to take adversity in stride. I phoned her one afternoon and asked how she was doing. She giggled and said: “Oh, I fell this morning but I managed to break the fall so it wasn’t too bad. [Giggle]”
She was lucid to the end and rarely ever repeated a story. I have had many phone conversations with elderly relatives over the years. The exchanges are sometimes tedious and can feel as if speaking to a child. “How are you feeling?” “What did you do today?” “What did you eat today?” With Miss Daisy, it was always a cogent, substantive conversation as if speaking with someone decades younger.
She once told me she has roots in Nevis and that she’s related to a family called Selkridge that lived in Gingerland Village. I told her I know a man from Gingerland who lives in the Virgin Islands. She told me the next time I speak to that man I should ask him about the Selkridge family and if any are still around. About two weeks later, my phone rang: “Edwin, I gave you an assignment and I haven’t heard back from you. Don’t tell me you forgot!”
In truth, I did forget. But she didn’t. Remember, this was a 101-year-old. Simply amazing.
Miss Daisy was also quite hip. She had a Facebook account. She phoned family and friends using What’s App, and she understood how WiFi works. She used terms not often heard from the elderly, such as a story “going viral.” I also learned she is close to actress Nicole Ari Parker, a Baltimore native who has visited Montserrat.
Miss Daisy was also humble. She spoke about her faults and joked about her life-long struggle with her weight. “I’ve been on every diet you’ve ever heard of,” she said laughing. The only time she displayed mild annoyance was during a conversation when a Telemarketer phoned on the other line. She quickly dispatched the interrupter. “They call all the time,” she said.
Every conversation was intriguing. I asked her which of her six siblings was her favorite. Although she loved them all dearly, she says she was especially close to her sister Josie. “She was full of life, she had a great personality, and she could sing, too,” Miss Daisy said.
Asked what were the happiest and saddest moments of her life, she said the happiest was the birth of her first child Patty in 1941. She said the saddest was when Patty passed away in 2016.
A UNIQUE LEGACY
During a three-decade journalism career, I have interviewed and crossed paths with many luminaries, from Muhammad Ali, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Michael Jordan and Sir Garry Sobers. Of the countless people I have been privileged to write about, Miss Daisy is my favorite. That is not a statement made in the heat of a sad moment. It is a fact.
Last year, while speaking to a friend about Miss Daisy, I stated: “That lady should not be allowed to die.”
The Almighty had other plans. But I firmly believe that every death is also a reunion. Miss Daisy is now with her beloved husband Jim, daughter Patty, sister Josie and all the other loved ones who predeceased her.
I am grateful for the knowledge she graciously shared. But I’m most appreciative of the life lessons she imparted through sheer example. She paid me the ultimate compliment just a couple months before her passing. “Every time I speak to you, you lift my spirits.”
There is an old African proverb: When an old person dies, a library burns to the ground.
We haven’t just lost a library.
We’ve lost a national treasure.
WATCH CLIPS FROM DAISY NANTON INTERVIEW