BY ANGELJEAN CHIARAMIDA
---- — SEABROOK — One hundred years old today, Raymond Joseph Lavin has been dipping his toes in the water off Seabrook Beach since the 1920s, and yesterday the town showed its appreciation for his loyalty, presenting him with the Boston Post Cane as the town’s oldest resident.
Born in North Andover in 1913 while Woodrow Wilson was president, Lavin has seen a lot of history, and much of it from Seabrook shores, first as a summer visitor and later as a year-round resident after he retired.
He married his late wife and sweetheart, Marie Crane, in 1942, during World War II, and raised seven children in Andover. But always, Seabrook Beach was the spot to enjoy life during the summers, until it became home base permanently in 1980.
Lavin had a roomful looking on yesterday, as his friends and family rose to honor him when selectmen presented the gold-tipped cane and plaque honoring his century of life. And there was no shortage of Town Hall employees on hand to give him hug.
“Everyone loves him here,” Town Hall secretary Amy Davis said. “He’s just the nicest man.”
“Raymond has always been the gentleman of gentlemen,” said Seabrook tax collector Lillian Knowles. “And he never complained about paying his taxes. He always did it with a smile.”
Lavin’s love affair with Seabrook Beach started as a boy, when in the 1920s he spent weekends visiting Lawrence’s Sheehan family, who owned one of the first homes along Seabrook’s shore. Staying in the carriage house beside the Sheehan’s family summer home at the time, Lavin came to greatly enjoy vacationing there and would return as a husband and father, after serving in the Navy during World War II.
“My father enlisted at the age of 28,” Lavin’s youngest daughter, Julie Lewis, said. “He served as chief petty officer on the U.S.S. Westpoint. He handled the paper work for the captain of the ship.”
The luxury ocean liner S.S. America had been converted as a troop carrier to become the Westpoint, Lavin said, able to carry as many as 9,000 men to their deployment.
“We went all over the world,” Lavin said. “We circled the world four times.”
Once back from the war in 1945 and already the father of two, Lavin returned to his job at a Lawrence paper mill, later moving on to work in trucking transportation to support his ever-growing family.
Always returning to Seabrook Beach with his family by renting the converted carriage home from the Sheehans, in the early 1950s, just after his fifth child was born, Lavin bought the Lawrence Street cottage he’d slept in as a boy.
“My mother had just given birth to my sister, Sally, and my father walked into the hospital and said, ‘Guess what? I just bought the house at Seabrook Beach,’” said Lewis. “It was great for my mother, because she could bring all of us up here. We loved it here.”
As the family grew, Lavin continued to renovate the small cottage, enlarging it to accommodate his growing brood which would include: Ann, Barbara, Ray Jr., Sally, Jack, Jeff and Julie. To help pay the mortgage, he rented it out to others, but always it was a place to treasure summer holidays with his family.
Moving up to the beach in 1980, he and Marie spend the next 17 years there, until Marie passed away in 1997 after 55 years of marriage. But still the family homestead continues to bring his seven children, 16 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren around to spend time with the family patriarch.
More than 100 people will gather to celebrate Lavin’s 100th birthday milestone in two parties. Asked if he has a secret to his longevity, Lavin humbly replied he’s done nothing special.
“I have no secret,” he said. “I’ve worked and taken care of my family. And I’ve kept busy with local clubs, like the Elks.”
And there is that passion for the Red Sox, said son Jeff. Lavin was alive when the Red Sox won the World Series in 1915, 1916 and 1918, then survived one of the longest dry spells in sports history to watch his favorite baseball team outlive the “Curse of the Bambino” and win again in 2004 and 2007.
But, above all, there’s his love for family that’s kept him going.
“Family was always No. 1 with my father,” Lewis said, as her father nodded. “Having us all together was his priority. And he’s always had a wonderful, positive attitude.”
Lavin still has a good memory for a great story and a wit quick enough to impress.
“Mr. Lavin, I hope I look as good as you when I’m 100 years old,” Selectman Ed Hess told him.
“I hope you live that long,” Lavin responded.
The Boston Post Cane A tradition begun by the Boston Post in 1909 as a promotion by former owner Edwin Grozier, the paper the newspaper gave out hundreds of ornate cans to municipal officials, intended as a tribute to be given to the oldest person in each community. For more than 100 years now, Seabrook's Board of Selectmen have been honoring the town's elders in this way.