Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

At 106, Eva Tancrell Meunier might have been the oldest Rays fan

LARGO — Eva Meunier discovered her favorite leisure activity at age 92, around the time the team now known as the Tampa Bay Rays played their first game.

True, her loyalties might have been divided. The former opera singer and New England transplant admitted to rooting for the Red Sox — as long as they were not playing the Rays.

Even so, the Rays have celebrated the woman who might have been their oldest hard-core fan. When Mrs. Meunier turned 105, Rays broadcaster Dewayne Staats sang happy birthday to her on the air. Joe Maddon sent along an autographed cap.

Mrs. Meunier, a patient woman who accepted what life had doled out and did what she could to help others, died April 5. She was 106.

Mrs. Meunier never attended a Rays game — she was already on a walker when the Rays played their first game in 1998 — but for years she watched nearly every game.

Rays spokesman Rick Vaughn remembers the team acknowledging her 105th birthday in 2010. "We weren't aware of anybody older at the time," he said.

Eva Tancrell was born in Uxbridge, Mass., in 1905, a year Christy Mathewson dominated the World Series and Ty Cobb was a rookie. Two of her seven brothers fought in World War I.

She liked to sing around the house. "A music teacher said, 'You have a beautiful voice, you should do something with it,' " said Jocelyn Meunier, 84, her daughter.

She attended music school, then married grocer Armand Meunier in 1926. They lived in Woonsocket, R.I., and had daughter Jocelyn. Though not as gregarious as her husband, who by all accounts was a big joker, Mrs. Meunier had a wry wit and "always came up with a crack of some sort," said Andree Giguere, a niece.

On stage, her shyness fell away.

"She had an operatic voice and a wonderful pitch," said Giguere, 78.

Besides being in demand for weddings and funerals, the soprano soloed for the Boston Philharmonic and an orchestra in Providence, R.I. In a career highlight, she took the leading role in a professional production of the French opera Manon in Montreal.

"That was the top for me," she told the Times in 2010. Colleagues urged her to audition at the Met, but Mrs. Meunier declined. Her husband was in ill health and unable to relocate.

"She was not sorry," her daughter said. "She had had her fun." For many years, she taught voice.

The Meuniers moved to St. Petersburg in 1952 for the climate. Her husband died in 1961 at age 64. Mrs. Meunier never considered remarrying.

"There was a gentleman who called on her," Jocelyn Meunier said. "They went out to dinner a few times, but nothing clicked."

She spent countless hours knitting or crocheting baby blankets and caps for Alpha House, which serves pregnant and parenting women in crisis, while taking in Rays games through amplified headphones in recent years as her hearing faded.

Her age put Mrs. Meunier in a relatively rare category. In itself, living to be 100 isn't so unusual anymore. The 2010 census reports that nearly 72,000 living Americans are 100 or older.

About 100 living Floridians are 106 or older, said Dr. L. Stephen Coles, who directs the Gerontology Research Group at UCLA. "110 is the age at which mortality becomes 50 percent," Coles said. "The instantaneous probability of death in one year is like flipping a coin."

Mrs. Meunier claimed no expertise on living a long life. She drank a glass of wine every now and then, but made no effort to exercise and did not monitor her diet. She had not been a hospital patient, apart from a brush with colon cancer that was caught in time 20 years ago.

"I don't have a secret," she said in 2010. "I just go from day to day."

Unlike some centenarians, Mrs. Meunier had not outlived all her friends. America Carbone, 101, said Mrs. Meunier was quick to help with her needs, such as enlisting her daughter to drive Carbone somewhere, or to offer advice.

"She did so much kindness to me, I will never forget it," said Carbone, who now lives in Alameda, Calif.

Jocelyn Meunier moved her mother into a skilled nursing facility in February 2011, two months after she broke her arm. Mrs. Meunier requested that she not have television or radio in her new quarters. More than anything, she wanted quiet. Her daughter gave her updates on the Rays. Her mind remained sharp. She recently asked her daughter when the baseball season was to start. When told that it was just around the corner, she replied, "Oh, good!"

Mrs. Meunier later slipped into a coma. She died Thursday — baseball's official opening day.

This story has been modified to reflect the following corrections: Mrs. Meunier died April 5. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect date and misspelled the name of her hometown, which was Uxbridge, Mass.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.

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