COVID-19 News, News June 2020, North America

The human face of a tragic time: She was a 102-year-old potato farmer born during the Spanish flu pandemic. She was killed by COVID-19

Frances Jordan Banks, a 102-year-old World War II Army nurse who served in India and spent many years on an Aroostook County potato farm in Maine, lived a life that was book-ended by pandemics. Abigail Curtis reports for the Bangor Daily News from Portland, Maine.

The Cape Elizabeth native was born during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, and died a few days ago of COVID-19.

Banks had been living at Cape Memory Care, a residential care facility in Cape Elizabeth that is a site of an outbreak of the disease.

The centenarian married late in life and didn’t have any children, but plenty of nieces and nephews to mourn her.

“She treated each of us as though we were her favorite, along with our children,” Sally Jordan, her niece, wrote in an email to the BDN. “My two sons, fast approaching 50, each called in tears when hearing of Aunt Frances’ passing.”

“We were sorry to lose her. She was a beautiful, beautiful lady,” he said. “Spanish flu is the world she was born into. The world she leaves behind is COVID-19. It’s pretty ironic.”

He spent a memorable afternoon with Banks about four years ago, while he was doing an oral history project about Fort Williams, one of Cape Elizabeth’s most important landmarks. Rowe had put out a request to talk to anyone who had served at the fort, and one of her relatives thought she would be willing to talk.

She was.

“It was an amazing afternoon for me,” he said. “She was very articulate. She was very clear of mind, and you could see a wry sense of humor coming out.”

Rowe said that Banks was a “wealth of information” about what it was like at the fort during the war. After nine months in Maine, the Army sent her farther afield, and she wound up as head nurse at the 94th Station Hospital in Piardoba, India, which was part of the Burma-China campaign. She and nine other nurses served with the 462nd Bombardment Group, which flew the B-29 Super Fortress planes over the Himalayas.

Banks was a nurse, but her family also knew her as a teacher “of all things” and relied on her guidance and wisdom. Something she said long ago — “You are the driver, and always have to be responsible for your actions,” has stuck with her niece.

“Those words have long guided me,” Jordan said. “You are solely responsible for your own actions — you can’t place blame on anyone else.”

Read the full story and watch a video on the Bangor Daily News here

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Lukie Pieterse, Editor and Publisher

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