Role reversed for centenarian who worked 40 years as nanny and housekeeper

Amy MacKenzie
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Lavinia Bowden, who will be celebrating her 100th birthday, looks at the photographs of the children she helped raise and now considers her family. Amy MacKenzie – The News

NEW GLASGOW – The children in her photos don’t have her last name and look nothing like her. But if you ask her, Susane Lavinia Bowden will tell you they’re all hers.

Bowden started working as a live-in nanny and housekeeper for the Hoare family more than 40 years ago. Since then, she has become part of the family, and will celebrate her 100th birthday with them today.

Faye Hoare, who hired Bowden, said before Bowden came to live with them, she didn’t have much of a life because she worked constantly. From the 1930s to 1960s, Hoare said Bowden worked as a housekeeper for another family in Abercrombie, but she was their employee, not their family member.

She said it wasn’t until she invited Bowden to move in as a nanny and housekeeper that Bowden found a family to call her own.

“I needed someone to look after my kids while I was at work and I already knew her so I sought her out,” She said. “Someone told me she was in the mall so I went there and ran around the mall until I chased her down and asked her to come work for me.”

Hoare’s house at the time was located behind the house where Bowden worked, and Bowden had become close with her children, who would come out and talk to her in their backyards.  

She said her children came to know Bowden as “Snowball” because she was always at the West Side Community Centre’s outdoor rink skating, teaching the kids to skate and joining in on snowball fights with them.

“She became a sort of icon to the kids in the west side,” Hoare said. “Even now that they’re adults, they still stop by to say hello to her and ask her how she’s doing.”

Jennifer Murray, Hoare’s daughter, said “she was just like a kid,” always getting involved in the neighbourhood kid’s games of hockey and building snowforts with them.

“She made an ice hockey rink in our backyard for the kids in the neighbourhood and all the kids on the west side growing up knew who she was. She’s become a hometown figure to those who grew up on the west side,” Murray said.

When she moved in with the Hoares, Bowden said her life changed for the better.

“She started going dancing, and bowling and singing in a choir,” Hoare said. “She was able to have a life. Before she was more restricted.”

Cherry Paris, a longtime resident in Pictou County, went to school with Hoare. She said it’s not common to see a family taking in their nanny and housekeeper the way the Hoare family has in this area.

“I’ve never heard of any other family doing that,” she said.  

Paris said that Bowden’s story of coming from Guysborough County, her original home, to work as a housekeeper was a familiar occurrence.

“It was not uncommon for people to come up from Guysborough County to New Glasgow looking for work. That’s how blacks in New Glasgow were settled here, once they found work,” Paris said. “For women, usually that work was domestic.”

Bowden has been living in someone else’s house her entire working life, but as it has turned out she has become part of the family.

“It’s just the way it’s always been. I don’t mind it,” Bowden said.

Hoare and Bowden still live together in the west end even though Bowden’s days of housekeeping and babysitting have been over for years.

As she approaches her 100th birthday, Hoare says their roles have become reversed. Now, it’s Hoare who takes care of Bowden. She helps her get to where she needs to be and makes sure she’s always comfortable. As she sits in a chair in their living room, Hoare asks, “Do you need a cushion? Are you warm enough?” as she helps her sit down.

“She helped me when I needed it, and now I’m helping her,” Hoare said, adding that as a single mother of two, having Bowden living with them made life a lot easier.

“We were friends first and still are. We’ve always just got along so good,” Hoare said. “I don’t know what I would have done without her.”

Hoare said everyone knows and loves Bowden, which is why her 100th birthday party will be held at a church.

“I had it in the backyard of my house one year, expecting maybe 30 people. But over 130 people came,” Hoare said, laughing.

Bowden’s 100th birthday celebration will be held on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at St. George’s Anglican Church on Temperance Street in New Glasgow.

Organizations: West Side Community Centre, Anglican Church

Geographic location: NEW GLASGOW, Paris, Abercrombie Guysborough County Pictou County Temperance Street

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  • charles facey
    September 07, 2012 - 06:41

    i had the pleasure of meeting this lady a few years ago and she is truely a treasure,long may she prosper

    • glenda macleod
      September 07, 2012 - 13:12

      I know Faye Hoare and she is a very lovely lady and I can remember for many years her and Bowden out shopping together. You could see how deep their friendship was and still is:) They were more like sisters. There should be more people in this world like Faye! im sure one of the reasons Bowden lived to be 100 is from all the love and attention she has received form the Hoare family. Happy Birthday Snowball !!!!