Lucille Pacaud was almost certainly the last living person who had been in a room with Sir Wilfrid Laurier. She was three years old in 1910 when the prime minister called on her father in Montreal. The Pacauds were a prominent Arthabaska family that helped finance Mr. Laurier’s rise to power in the 1880s.
During her extraordinarily long life, she went from wealthy debutante to salaried member of the middle class, and after retirement she volunteered for a remarkable three decades at the Montreal General Hospital, a commitment that lasted until she was 102.
She remained spirited and active, dining out with friends and regaling them with a lifetime of memories until a few weeks before she died on Dec. 26 at the age of 106.
“She was very positive, always upbeat. She was also extremely disciplined, very tough underneath – she had a steely resolve. But she had the ability to relate to people of all ages. She was never idle,” said her nephew Tony Pacaud, who really only got to know his aunt in her later years.
Ms. Pacaud’s grandfather, Georges Pacaud, was a free-thinking liberal who quit the Roman Catholic Church after a political fight with his parish priest. Instead of naming his children after saints, as was the custom in French Canada at the time, Georges Pacaud named his sons after U.S. presidents.
Consequently, Ms. Pacaud’s father was named George Washington Pacaud. He was a stockbroker and playwright, who won the Governor-General’s Award for Drama in 1909. Her uncle was Abraham Lincoln Pacaud, and she had an aunt, Columbia. Her mother, Henriette Fauteux, could trace her ancestry back to the kings of France through Robert I of Dreux, the fifth son of Louis VI.
Christened Henriette Lucille Eveline Pacaud after her birth on Aug. 27, 1907, she was known simply as Lou throughout most of her life.
Ms. Pacaud lived in England before the First World War, and when the conflict ended she was schooled in Paris. She was sent there to live with her aunt Marie Claire Fauteux, an artist who, during the Second World War, was suspected by the Germans of being a British spy and was imprisoned during the occupation of France.
Ms. Pacaud returned to Canada in 1926 and made her formal debut at a ball in 1928. She grew up with three younger brothers in Montreal’s fabled Square Mile, where she moved with ease through parties attended by the cream of Montreal society, the Drummonds, the Galts and the Anguses. In a private family memoir, she recalled attending a party at Ravenscrag, a mansion on the slopes of Mount Royal built by shipping magnate Sir Hugh Allan.
“The parties weren’t as lavish as they had been before the war, before Allan’s two daughters drowned in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915,” she writes, “But being invited to Ravenscrag was always an occasion, always wonderful.” When I got there, I was shocked to discover that everyone was smoking and butting their cigarettes on the polished hardwood floors. And even worse, someone defaced a valuable sketch in one of the bedrooms. After that, whenever there was a party at Ravenscrag, Sir Montagu Allan (Sir Hugh’s son) had canvas installed on the floors to protect them.”
Ms. Pacaud’s life of ease ended in 1930, when her father lost the family fortune in the Depression. “All the servants left, my father died, my mother had to do the housework, and I had to learn to cook,” she recalled. “God have mercy on those who had to eat what I put on the table.”
Ms. Pacaud went to work for Dominion Textile, where she was put in charge of sales of greige material, which was used for military uniforms. Perhaps because she was employed by a textile company, she had a great fashion sense and was always elegantly turned out, even as a centenarian.
She retired in 1973, at 65, but she didn’t stop working. She volunteered at the Montreal General Hospital for the next three decades. “She was sharp. She was dedicated, she was energetic. Every patient who ever met her remembers her. She was an inspiration. She had a story for everyone and made time for everyone,” said Rita Giulione, the hospital’s manager of volunteer services.
“She never missed a day’s work, no matter the weather. She walked up the hill to the hospital. The only ward she was reluctant to service was the geriatric ward. She thought the patients there were too old, and too fussy.”
She travelled extensively, to Egypt, the Middle East, Europe and Florida, but continued to do her rounds at the hospital until she injured herself while lifting a heavy box and stopped working at 102. Her contributions were recognized three years ago by the Quebec Association of Hospital Auxiliaries.
“I never thought of myself as a volunteer. I just did what I enjoyed, which is pretty much what I did every day of my life,” she said. “I forgot how old I was. Everyone makes such a fuss about it, but you just keep waking up each day and going on. It’s not that you get old, it’s that circumstances around you change.” You don’t lose interest in what is going on around you. Those around you lose interest in you, and you can’t keep up. I found myself becoming increasingly isolated.”
Disillusioned by a teenage romance that went sour, she never married. But at 103, she raised more than a few eyebrows when she agreed to be the matron of honour at a same-sex marriage.
“Meaningful relationships are difficult to sustain,” she said. “Whenever human beings make them work, they deserve support.”
Featured in a book published last year, Au Coeur de l’image des aînés, she told the authors that the secret to longevity was to “always take things as they come, not to take anything too seriously. If you choose to look beyond the length of your nose, you will discover the entire world is at your doorstep.”
She continued to organize bridge tournaments for the ladies at Fulford House, the Montreal seniors’ residence where she spent her final days. By the time she reached her 106th birthday last year, she confided to friends that she had become weary not of life, but of the daily grind of living.
“After all, there is a limit to the number of bridge games you can play in a lifetime,” she said.
Editor's note: A previous version of this obituary had the name of Lucille Pacaud's mother spelled incorrectly. It is Henriette Fauteux, not Fauteaux.