Eight brothers and sisters, going strong at ages 79 to 96, say they’re nothing special. National attention and their combined ages tell otherwise.
They’re the long-living Hurlburt siblings: three brothers and five sisters. There were 11 siblings. The eight survivors range in age from 79 to 96 and all but two live in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Each is healthy, active, creative and enjoys a good joke.
They count painters, poets, a dollmaker and a musician among them. Four gave birth to twins. And, since longevity is suddenly an “in” topic to study, they’re famous.
They received coverage on two pages in Time magazine Feb. 22 and were featured last fall in Bostonia, Boston University’s alumni magazine. They were the big draw when the Museum of Science in Boston held a panel presentation, and they have been interviewed for a National Institute on Aging study. They’ve been on cable TV, in their local papers and in retirement community newsletters like the one at Linden Ponds in Hingham.
“I go to the market and people say, ‘Hi there, celebrity,’” said Muriel Gillooly of West Roxbury at her 90th birthday party Saturday. Six of the eight siblings were there to celebrate, which meant 527 of the eight’s total 702 years were in one room. The other two, whose ages total 175 years, were in California.
“I’m enjoying it so far, but I’ll never go to Hollywood,” Gillooly said. “You can tell them I’m out!”
Helen Caldwell is 88 and lives in Hingham. She is one of three from the South Shore; the others are Peter Hurlburt, 81, of Braintree and Peggy Brack of Weymouth, who, at 79, is the youngest.
With a smile, Caldwell admitted she was the instigator, “the one who started it.” She attended a police academy class at the Hingham Senior Center when a notice caught her attention: “What are the secrets of your long life?”
The Long Life Family Study at B.U. Medical Center was looking for families with two or more living siblings older than 80.
“Why, we’ve got a lot more than that,” Caldwell thought. She made a call to the study and interviewers were at her door within a week.
Soon all eight had been interviewed and word began to spread. Their good health and longevity have brought a new status that both amazes and amuses them.
Their father, Melrose, died at age 45 of tuberculosis; their mother, Mary Charlotte, at 63. But two aunts lived to 100 and 102.
“You don’t think about it as special until someone points it out,” Brack said. “I don’t think we do anything that are not everyday things.”
“Why we live so long?” responded Gillooly. “It wasn’t from overeating – there were 11 in our family.”
At the party, the six described sleeping three to a bed, having soup for supper to stretch the food, bathing once a week in a tub in the kitchen – and also having plenty of good times in a Depression-era Dorchester neighborhood home where they entertained one another, shared hand-me-down clothes and felt safe.
“They are all enjoying their 15 minutes of fame,” Lois Gillooly, Muriel’s daughter, said. “And they’re all very surprised by it, actually. I think when you are in a family, you assume you are the norm. It’s only been the past few years that the study has made us all appreciate what we have.”
Hurlburt was shopping at South Shore Plaza recently when a friend came up and said, “I saw you in my doctor’s office.”
Hurlburt replied, “But I wasn’t at the doctor.”
“Oh, I was reading Time magazine,” his friend said.
It’s been more than 70 years since they went their own ways, but they always stayed close. They are proud of the oldest brothers – James, 91, and Walter, 84 – who are in California and stay in touch.
Hurlburt offered one last thought about their longevity.
“We’re all interested in each other,” he said. “We like to make sure that everyone is happy.”
Reach Patriot Ledger writer Sue Scheible at email@example.com.