With a life of family, laughter – and song – Burrillville’s Connell turns 104

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Members of the Connell family gathered at Overlook Nursing & Rehabilitation Center to celebrate Camille Connell's 104th birthday.

BURRILLVILLE – Sue Connell-Quetta pushed her mom’s wheelchair into the room at the Overlook Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, where her family was waiting to celebrate Camille Connell’s 104th birthday.

Connell smiled and waved at the multi-generational group of relatives singing, “Happy Birthday.”

“How old are you?” Connell-Quetta asked Connell.

“Oh, 80, I think,” Connell responded.

“Your left leg is 80,” Connell-Quetta joked.

“84?” Connell guessed.

“You’re 104,” Connell-Quetta said.

“104!” Connell said. “I’m 104!”

NRI NOW photo by Karleen Kozaczka

“She told me she was going to live to be 147,” quipped one of Connell’s six children. 

Connell’s family, a tight-knit group of five generations, took photos with her in front of a birthday backdrop and served Connell’s favorite treat: coffee ice cream.

“I have to buy her a half gallon every couple of days,” Connell-Quetta said.

Connell was born in Burrillville on January 22, 1920, one of 11 children. Her maiden name was Marcoux, and her friends called her “Cam,” said her oldest daughter and, “family historian,” Gail LeClair of Glendale.

She graduated from Burrillville High School in 1937, and along with her siblings, she sang in the church choir in three languages: English, French and Latin, LeClair said.

Connell met her husband, Jim, on a blind double date set up by another couple, LeClair said.

“My father wasn’t known back then to laugh. He had a tough upbringing,” LeClair said. “Well, the boyfriend (in the other couple) was known for losing his keys, so when they were leaving the house my mother said, ‘keys, keys, keys!’ and my father just lost it and started laughing. They couldn’t get over it.”

“They were just two different types of people, but my father changed when he joined our family,” LeClair said. “There’s a lot of laughing when the Marcouxs get together.”

The couple married in 1943 and had six children, three boys and three girls, LeClair said.

The family spent their summers at Echo Lake, and in the winter Connell tried ice skating, LeClair said.

“Well she didn’t try ice skating until she was about 25 years old. It took six people to hold her up, but she was determined,” LeClair said.

Connell didn’t get a license until she was 35 years old.

“She didn’t have a car so she didn’t need it, but when us kids got older she figured she better get her license to drive us to things,” LeClair said. “But when she got the license the kids in town would say, ‘get out of the road here comes Mrs. Connell!’ She laughed at that.”

When her youngest started school, Connell decided to start volunteering at local places, LeClair said. She volunteered at nursing homes, including Overlook, and ran a bingo night at Zambarano Hospital.

“My father said, ‘you know we can’t live on thank yous,’ and my mom said ‘think of the graces I’m making,'” Le Clair said.

Today, Connell enjoys her coffee ice cream and visits with her many family members, most of whom live nearby, LeClair said. 

“If you go by her room on Sundays you could probably hear us singing. We often sing to get her mind going. We’ll start singing, ‘I’ll Be Working on the Railroad,’ and she chimes in,” LeClair said. 

Five generations of the Connell family: Camille Connell in front, with daughter Cyndee Munroe. In back, from right, are her granddaughter Shanna Barry and great granddaughter Amber Barry holding great great grandson Easton Barry-Harrison.

Singing has always been a favorite pastime for the family, she said.

“In 1964 my mom saved up to take all eight of us to the World’s Fair” in New York, LeClair said. They took a Collette bus, and on the way home, her siblings Jeff and Cindy started singing. 

“We had a whole bunch of songs we would always sing, like You Are my Sunshine and Nothing Could be Finer Than to Be In Carolina and anyway, the people on the bus all started singing with us,” LeClair said.

Three years later LeClair and her sisters took another Collette bus tour.

“They passed out these booklets with song lyrics and it said that a few years ago a family sang on the bus and it made everyone happy and so now we do it. My sister said ‘hey that was the Connells. We were the ones who sang.'”

LeClair credits her mom’s love of family and natural lightheartedness to her longevity.

“She still has a great sense of humor when she has a good day,” LeClair said. “We don’t cry very much, and we laugh a lot in this family.”

She also credits genetics, saying most of her mom’s siblings lived into their 90s and even 100s.

“But mostly not taking life too seriously, and don’t dwell on bad stuff,” LeClair said.

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1 COMMENT

  1. When I worked at Overlook. I love sitting down and talking with grams. I loved her story she would tell. She turned every bad day to a happy day. She had a nickname for me cuz she didn’t remember my name the garbage lady. Love her so much

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