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Julia Fifield of Orford dies just days after 107th birthday

ORFORD - Julia M. Fifield, an active figure in state and local government for decades, died this week just days after her 107th birthday.

Fifield died Monday at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in Lebanon, daughter Ann Davis said. Her birthday was last Tuesday, when she celebrated with cake in the afternoon and then a small party in the evening with family and a few friends.

"She enjoyed it. She really liked people," Davis said Wednesday.

Fifield made headlines last month when at age 106, she voted in the general election in Orford, where she was a well-known community leader. That continued a string she said included every election since fellow New Englander Calvin Coolidge was President in the 1920s.

"When she became old enough to vote, her grandfather instilled in her that it was her duty to vote - as it is with every American," Davis said.

Fifield, who once hosted a campaign reception for George H.W. Bush early in his bid for the 1980 Republican presidential nomination, voted a straight GOP ticket, Davis said.

"She was the Grand Lady of Orford," said Tom Thomson, son of former Gov. Meldrim Thomson. "If you stop and think about what Julia has seen in her lifetime, it's pretty remarkable."

Thomson said Fifield always made an effort to reach out to young people and encourage them to vote, not pushing for a particular party or candidate, just reminding them of the importance of exercising their rights.

"She's going to be missed by the whole community," Thomson said. "If you could live to be that old and have a clear a mind as Julia Fifield did and be as active as she was, that would be great if everyone could go through life like that."

Fifield was born Julia Mentzer Dec. 4, 1905, in Somerville, Mass. She grew up on a farm in North Williston, Vt., riding a horse and sometimes sleigh to school in Essex Junction just east of Burlington. The family moved back to Massachusetts in 1923, settling in Cambridge, where Julia attended the Lesley School, now Lesley University.

She taught school for three years, then married Charles P. Golding in 1930. The couple had two children before Julia was widowed in 1947. She married Clifford C. Fifield in 1960, and the couple moved to Orford three years later, taking over a home that had been in her family since 1936.

Julia's mother and grandmother were gardeners, passing their love of it to the next generation, Davis said. Fifield turned her gardening skills into a profession when she started a career in landscape design.

Then Gov. Meldrim Thomson appointed her the state historic preservation review board, now known as the state Historical Resources Council; she also worked with Thomson on the Orford school board in the 1960s. She served on the board of trustees at Canterbury Shaker Village, worked with Friends of Hopkins Center and the Hood Art Museum at Dartmouth and was a member of the Hanover Garden Club.

"She had some of the most incredible flower gardens around her house and took great pride in showing people that," Thomson said.

Davis said her mother was also instrumental in the founding of the Montshire Museum in Hanover after Dartmouth's natural history museum closed in the early 1970s. She was a trustee for the Orford Social Library and member of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America.

Fifield was awarded the Boston Post Cane, an honor going to the eldest resident of selected towns in New England since 1909, and was still driving at age 102.

Davis said funeral arrangements were pending.

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Doug Alden may be reached at dalden@unionleader.com.


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