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Dorothy Brown, state’s oldest resident, dies at 112

Mrs. Brown worked as a volunteer into her 90s.
Mrs. Brown worked as a volunteer into her 90s.

At 91 and not yet ready to fully retire, Dorothy Brown applied to volunteer at a Brooklyn, N.Y., hospital. She didn’t mind the commute from her Flatbush home, which included changing buses, but was taken aback when the hospital interviewer asked her age.

That wasn’t anyone’s business but hers, she decided, so she claimed to be a decade younger. “I said I was born in 1917,” she later confided to her daughter.

Mrs. Brown, who moved from New York to Framingham in February to live closer to relatives, was apparently the oldest person in Massachusetts when she died Nov. 26. She was 112, and no older resident was listed in online supercentenarian rankings.

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In June, while living in the St. Patrick’s Manor skilled nursing center in Framingham, she was presented with the Boston Post Cane, which recognizes a community’s oldest resident.

“I appreciate this honor. Thank you very much,” she said at the ceremony, according to an account published in the MetroWest Daily News.

During a life that began in the Roosevelt administration (Theodore, not Franklin), Mrs. Brown left a lasting impression on nearly everyone she met.

That included her retail sales years at the Rogers Peet clothing store in Manhattan, from which she retired — or tried to — in her late 60s.

Among her customers were CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite and the actors Tony Randall and Jack Lemmon.

“My grandmother would get the celebrities to write autographs to my sister, back in the ’70s,” said her granddaughter Elizabeth McMorrow, a Newton attorney. “My sister ended up having this whole collection.”

The entertainer Carol Channing — out shopping for clothes for her son — was also one of Mrs. Brown’s customers at Rogers Peet. When Mrs. Brown decided she had retired too soon and went to work at Dunhill’s in Manhattan, in walked Channing one day.

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“She was pleasantly surprised when she found my grandmother at Dunhill’s,” her granddaughter said.

Finally setting aside retail work in her 70s, Mrs. Brown took up volunteering, initially at St. Athanasius Catholic Church in Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst section.

As the senior club’s travel director for more than a dozen years, she accompanied outings for free if she got enough people to fill a bus — with one seat reserved for her.

While making arrangements, she would take one bus and then change to another riding from the church to the travel agency, with up to $2,000 in her purse. Her family worried, but “she said, ‘No one is going to bother me,’ ” her granddaughter recalled.

Upon leaving that job, Mrs. Brown still wasn’t ready to stay at home. That led her, at 91, to volunteer at a hospital.

As a patient liaison, she’d go back and forth from the surgical floor to families in waiting areas, letting them know their relatives were out of surgery and a doctor would be by soon with details. At home, she also crocheted blankets for babies born prematurely.

But first, Mrs. Brown had to get through an interview to volunteer as a purported 81-year-old, rather than 91.

“She said, ‘I had to fill out an application and do you know they asked me my age? They shouldn’t be able to ask my age,’” her granddaughter said.

Dorothy Muriel Corcoran was born at home in Brooklyn’s Flatbush neighborhood on May 1, 1907. She was one of nine children, and the sixth of the eight who survived past infancy.

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Her father, Michael Corcoran, was a printer who sometimes traveled to Philadelphia and other places to find work. Her mother, Nellie Sullivan, stayed home to raise the children.

Returning to the family on weekends, her father would bring chocolates for the children, letting them draw straws to see who got first pick. Mrs. Brown never lost her affection for chocolate, including later enjoyment of the decadent Blackout Cake sold at Brooklyn’s legendary Ebinger’s Bakery.

She graduated from Manual Training High School in Brooklyn and was a clerk at Metropolitan Life Insurance in Manhattan. As in her later years in retail, “she worked very hard,” her granddaughter said. “You had to have your heels and your nice dress, and you’re standing on the subway and on your feet all day.”

At a party, Dorothy met Daniel Francis Brown, a New Yorker who took a job initially with the police department in Miami.

One of her sisters worked at a dress shop and gave Dorothy two dresses. “One that she was able to wear at her wedding and the other for the honeymoon,” her granddaughter said.

Dorothy, who had never previously ventured outside New York City, boarded a bus at age 19 and rode to Miami, where she and Dan married in 1926.

Other officers on the Miami police force “collected 3,600 pennies for his and Dorothy’s honeymoon,” her granddaughter wrote in a tribute.

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She added that Dorothy and Dan were in Miami about two years before returning to Flatbush, where they raised their children.

Dan Brown, who worked for the New York City Police Department, died in 1970. Their son, Gerald, died last year.

Breezing past the century mark — alone in her Flatbush apartment until moving into assisted living at 101 — Mrs. Brown saw no reason to advertise her longevity. But she was cheerful when a researcher who studies supercentenarians visited her in Framingham.

And despite her diminutive stature — she was 5-foot-1 in her tallest years — she was firm in her resolve when it came to supporting friends and comforting elderly friends she would outlive.

“In her older years, she would hold somebody’s hand on their death bed all the way to the end,” her granddaughter said. “She was not going to abandon a friend.”

A funeral Mass was said for Mrs. Brown, who in addition to her granddaughter Elizabeth leaves two daughters, Muriel McCleave of North Babylon, N.Y., and Alice B. McMorrow of Stow; six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren; and a great-great-grandson she was able to meet a few times.

She was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery in Queens. All four of her grandparents had emigrated from Ireland, and Mrs. Brown was buried in a plot her maternal grandparents had purchased in the 1800s.

During Mrs. Brown’s years working and volunteering, everyone “would see how smart she was and how beautiful, and it would put such huge smiles on people’s faces,” her granddaughter Elizabeth said.

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At the cemetery, Mrs. Brown made a few final friends.

“The gravediggers were there, and the head of the crew and said, ‘Is this true? I was doing the math on this,’ ” said Elizabeth, who gave him a laminated prayer card.

He told the family later that he had “put my grandmother’s prayer card up in the office so everyone could see how old she was. We definitely miss her but she made her mark everywhere,” Elizabeth added.

“My mother could have lived to 200 and I’d still miss her,” Alice said.


Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.