Family and friends on Monday remembered the joy they felt being around Francis Mariea, who died on Saturday in a Mooresville care center at age 108.
To them, he was “Uncle Fran,” related or not.
They recalled his devotion to family and God – he prayed the Rosary every day and prayed nightly for those in need – and how he made everyone he met feel like a longtime friend.
“God loves you, and so do I,” Mariea told each person he shook hands with at the Sign of Peace during Mass at St. Therese Catholic Church in Mooresville each Sunday, the Rev. Paul McNulty said at Mariea’s funeral on Monday morning.
And his quick wit always drew smiles and laughs.
“I’m a real windbag,” he cracked at his 102nd birthday celebration in 2011 after saying he’d blow out the three candles on his cake.
When he blew out only one candle on his first try, he said, “OK, I’m only half a windbag,” the Observer reported at the time.
Mariea, as usual, had those around him laughing. He’d always been that way, his family said, not to mention the best role model: the hardest worker, the most loyal husband, the man who put God and family first.
“I love you more today than yesterday but less than tomorrow,” read the sign to his wife in the kitchen of their former home in Potsdam, N.Y. His wife, Helen, died in 2003, years after they’d moved to Mooresville to be closer to family.
While living in upstate New York, Mariea and his wife were foster parents to poor children from New York City.
In a 2002 interview with the Observer, he said he didn’t know why he lived so long, although a brother lived to 93 and a sister in New York was 94. Mariea said he smoked “no more than a pack a day” until he was 40, when he suddenly quit for no reason.
He also said he wouldn’t dare dish out advice on how a person can live long. “I’m not that smart,” he said.
Mariea was born on April 2, 1909. Life wasn’t easy for him as a teen. His father died when Mariea was 11. By 14, he’d joined a riveting crew in a shipyard and at 15 was a deckhand on a boat on the St. Lawrence River. He later managed a fleet of trucks for Wonder bread, worked for a firm that supplied materials to builders and, from 1966 until he retired at 65 in 1974, worked in the services department at what’s now Clarkson University.
He never got past eighth grade, although Joan Coombe of Mooresville, one of Mariea’s four nieces, said he later obtained a high school equivalency diploma.
Mariea was “the treasure of the family,” Coombe said.
Others at Mariea’s funeral included niece Martha Wood of Mooresville and Mariea’s one nephew, John Wood, who flew in from San Francisco.
Mariea also is survived by nieces Ann Warriner of Schenectady, N.Y., and Mary Beth Johnston of Syracuse, N.C.; one great nephew, Jeffrey Coombe; one great niece, Jennifer Edwards; four great-great nephews, Ryder and Mason Edwards and Jaxon and Jakob Coombe.
Burial will be at a later date in Bayside Cemetery in Potsdam, N.Y.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be sent to Hospice of Iredell County, 2347 Simonton Road, Statesville, NC 28625 or St. Therese Catholic Church 217 Brawley School Road, Mooresville, NC 28117.