EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 5, 2012

Lawrence's 'oldest voter' still inspired after 22 presidential elections

By Mark E. Vogler mvogler@eagletribune.com
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — LAWRENCE — At age 106, Obeline Biron remains outspoken in her opinions on the American electoral process, which she insists everyone has a civic duty to participate in.

“To be a good American, you’ve got to vote,” the city’s oldest registered voter declared in an interview last week.

“I still got my marbles, so I’ll keep on voting,” Biron said as she sat in her room at the Mary Immaculate Nursing/Restorative Center, reflecting on more than eight decades of voting — including 22 presidential elections.

Voting means so much to Biron that she was ready to raise a ruckus last month after somebody at City Hall forget to mail her an absentee ballot. She finally got the ballot after “getting a runaround” and several calls on her behalf. But, she’s still upset about it.

“Somebody’s not on the ball over there. I’ve always voted, so how can they forget me,” she said.

Biron no longer reads a daily newspaper, but stays current with national and world affairs by watching the news on the television set in her room at the nursing home.

Voting is something Biron said she’s never taken for granted — especially not after 1920, the year the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote.

Biron, who was then a 14-year-old living in Connecticut, recalled how her mother celebrated that historic event.

“On that election day, it was the first time women could vote,” Biron said.

“My mother was so glad she danced all around the kitchen floor and that left an impression on me. She always voted and loved to vote. She always knew what was best for her. So, I followed her example. I was brought up that voting was very important. It’s the country we live in and we want it run by the best,” she said.

Biron, one of 11 children, was born and raised in Connecticut. Her mother was from Vermont, and her father was a Canadian who worked as a foreman for a lumber company. She was 16 when her family moved to Lawrence in 1922 after the death of her dad.

Like many people of her generation, her life was shaped by working in the textile mills. That’s where she met her husband Wilfred. They were married for 63 years. He died 25 years ago.

While working in the Ayer Mill for more than 20 years, Biron became active with the local union and was elected a shop steward. That experience deepened her lifelong commitment to the Democratic Party and its political values.

“We were always taught that the Democrats were the poor person’s party,” Biron said.

“I was a delegate for the union when I was in the mill. They were very much for the Democrats. They told us they were for the poor people,” she said.

Biron hasn’t given up her Democratic ways for this election. A few weeks ago, she said she cast her absentee ballot for President Barack Obama.

“He’s for the poor people,” Biron said.

“I voted once in my life for a Republican — Ike (President Dwight Eisenhower). I liked the man. I liked what he did, although maybe I didn’t like who was behind him. I was satisfied with Ike. We liked him because he was a war hero. Everybody seemed to like him for what he did,” she said.

Eisenhower, a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II who served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, won the 1952 and 1956 presidential elections by landslides.

Biron said her favorite president was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only president to serve more than two terms. He died early in his fourth term.

“I thought FDR did well,” Biron said.

“FDR was very well-liked. To be elected as many times as he was, he had to be. He was a very, very smart man. So was his wife, Eleanor,” she said.

Biron said she also rated President John F. Kennedy high on her list of top presidents and has always held the Kennedy family in high esteem.

“The Kennedys did so much for us. They’ve had a big impact on a lot of people in this country,” she said.

“I remember watching television on the day Jack Kennedy got shot. And then the guy that got blamed for it, somebody shot him too,” she recalled.

Her closest encounter with a president came during the administration of President Harry S. Truman. Biron said she and other union delegates went to Washington in hopes of getting some work for the Ayer Mill in Lawrence.

“During the war, we made the cloth for the uniforms. The best cloth on the market went into their suits,” Biron said.

“We saw him (Truman) leave the Blair House to go to the White House. We had to stand away as he walked by. That was the closest I ever got to a president,” she said.

Staff at Mary Immaculate say they’ve witnessed Biron’s passion and diligence for being a good citizen. She’s been known to lecture people on exercising their right to vote.

“Sure, I tell them they should vote. Of course, they should,” Biron said.

“My father-in-law said to me a long time ago that it’s always important that you vote, especially when you own property. He said if you wanted something done and asked for it, you got better treatment if you were on the voting list,” she said.

So what does it feel like, being the oldest registered voter in the City of Lawrence?

“I have to take it. God isn’t ready for me yet,” Biron quipped.

But she really hopes to live long enough to welcome a sixth generation to the Biron side of her family. She longs to become a great-great-great grandmother. She has eight great-grandchildren and 13 great-great-grandchildren.

“I tell them to get out and vote, and they do,” she said.