At 107, is Helen the oldest among us?

October 21, 2013

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason and strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength, labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away. - Psalms XC 12.

This Biblical psalm seems to ignore another passage from the Old Testament wherein Methuselah, a patriarch, is cited as having lived for 969 years. (Genesis 8-27). 
The ageing process is fast, especially for women, and is marked by degeneration as noted by Pierre Jean de Beranger, French poet (1780-1857):

Old age doth in sharp pains abound; 
We are belabored by the gout,
Our blindness is a dark profound, 
Our deafness each one laughs about.
Then reason’s light with falling ray
Doth but a trembling flicker cast.
Honor to age, ye children pay!
Alas!  my fifty years are past!

For Helen Rego (Aemiliana Souza), it is past 100 years and, to be precise, on October 11, 2013, nearly a hundred of her relatives, neighbours and well-wishers gathered in her house at Barebail to celebrate her 106th birthday, with the cutting of cake and sharing refreshments – with prayers led by the Assistant Parish Priest of Derebail, Fr. Edwin Monis to which parish Helen belongs.. If I am not enlightened otherwise by anyone, she could be the oldest in Mangalore diocese. Having covered two centurions for the media before – Cecilia, then the oldest resident at the Bajjodi old age home, and Mr. Rao of Attavar (both now late), I was keen on meeting Helen when someone mentioned her age. Visiting her on the morrow of her birthday, I was rewarded by a one-way conversation, since she is hard of hearing and I am poor at shouting. But, perhaps, we should start with a bit of background.
Helen could be belonging to one of the two Rego families. Dr. Michael Lobo, in his Distinguished Mangalorean Catholics, goes back to Pedro Rego (C 1740-) and notes that he “is the earliest known member of the Rego (Nayak) Derebail family. According to some historical account of the Seringapatam captivity, the Derebail Rego family was allowed to remain in Mangalore, perhaps because some of its agricultural produce was required by Tippu’s soldiers . During the captivity both the churches at Rosario and Milagres (then only two in Mangalore) were destroyed, but in 1792 when Tippu was beset with various other problems, Pedro Rego took the opportunity to build a chapel at Derebail and it was allowed to stand. The chapel is no longer in existence and the site where it was built is uncertain.”

Dr Micheal Lobo also cites Antony Victor Rego (b1938-), member of the Rego family settled in Barebail, off Yeyyadi on the City-Airport Road, printing technologist and founder of Brilliant Printers, Bangalore. Though Helen’s family is Barebail-located, it is not material for Helen’s story to determine to which of the two Rego clans she belongs.
The old are often used as worthless, useless, dependent and burdensome. They are accused of coming in the way of younger people, may be their own children and grandchildren. But, in the case of Helen’s daughters-in-law, all the three of them now widowed, they have bonded together to look after their bed-ridden mother-in-law, with two of them, locally located, taking hands-on responsibility for care-giving. Entire financial responsibility is taken by Mrs. Mabel Rego, based in Bangalore. While the main responsibility is shouldered by Evelyn, whose husband (Late Sylvester Rego) was the latest of the six sons (Bernard (79), James (77), Henry (74), Sylvester (72), Denis (67), Richard (62)) of Helen to die last year, her sister-in-law, Benny, located in an adjacent compound offered to look after Helen when Evelyn went to the Gulf to be with her only daughter during her confinement. The visit was initially to be for three months; but got extended to eight months. This reflects the sense of commitment of the family to look after their centurion+ matriarch.

Born on October 11, 1907, Helen had not much of an education and struggled for life bringing up seven children with income from selling jasmines grown on the one-acre family plot at Barebail. Since the early death of her husband, Late Eugine Rego (1970), she girdled herself to bring up her children, get them settled and eventually partitioned the family property so that the sons could pursue their lives as nuclear families.

Incidentally, Helens husband was a job-hopper. As his daughter, Monica Alvares, explains, he was working in shops in the Hampankatta area. Finally, he worked with Quality Textiles of Late Leo Pereira.
Coming back to Helen, as bad luck would have it, about sixteen years ago she had a nasty fall which dislocated her hip bone. Considering her advances age, and taking a dim view of her potential longevity and ignoring Helen’s survival instincts, the doctor ruled out correctional surgery and confined to her to bed, except for short breaks on a wheel chair which is an improvised combination of a wheeled low platform, like the one we would have to move our gas cylinder around, and her favorite armed chair mounted on it.. She has undergone cataract surgery. But, otherwise she has good health, appetite, eats by herself with preference for non-vegetarian food, takes no medicine, has no diabetes or blood pressure. Helen has a sharp and alert mind and takes in situations and reacts firmly.  At her last birthday, seeing that the priest had left some refreshments uneaten, she gave a mouthful to him on food wastage. When I met her, she was quick to comment on my receding bald pate and grey hair. She quickly had me brief her on my only one wife and two children – never mind if she could not take it in.

Among her seven children, six boys (Richard, Dennis, Sylvester, Henry, James, Bernard, Monica), the only survivor is Helen’s eldest daughter, Monica Alice. Born on May 4th, 1932, she was married to Joachim Santhan Alvares (Shet) (1915 - 1993) from the Bondel Alvares family settled at Kelarai. He worked in Bombay for the Railways; but his fame is as a front-ranking Konkani writer and as editor of Mithr and Jhelo.. After he retired to Mangalore he ran a printing press named Swatantra, after the then political party. Monica, now 81, lives with her eldest son, Patric Alvares, in Derebail area. He heped me with inputs for this article, including some photos. 
Family photo can be inserted.

One remarkable thing about Helen is her fiercely hugging the old house. Two of her daughters- in-law have built spacious modern houses in their adjoining plots and Evelyn would have welcomed Helen to the new house. But, Helen insists on continuing to live in the old house, owned by her Bangalore-based daughter-in-law, Mabel Rego, where her small bedroom gives her westward view through a small window. So, the care-givers have decided that old age home is not an option (“She would have died long ago if we had put her in an ashram”, declares Evelyn. She also says that Helen keeps better cleanliness and personal hygiene than herself). 

Since Evelyn has to be in her new house and tend to the jasmine garden, a working routine is evolved. She visits Helen at 7 AM with breakfast, washes and freshens Helen and locks the house and returns again at noon with lunch which, once served and kept on a chair next to the bed, Helen manages herself. The next visit is at 4PM with tea and then with dinner at 8PM, after which Evelyn locks the house for the night and the routine is followed every day. Benny, (W/o Late Denis Rego) also visits in the morning and evening to maintain the cleanliness of the house and also her mother-in-law. Helen has no complaints about this. This reflects the independent stance of Helen and the family’s practical response to the situation.

That takes us to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, US poet (1807- 1882):
For age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress,
And as evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with   stars invisible by day.

May Helen continue to see the stars through her window open to the western sky!

Specialties of Helen Rego:

Helen was honored for being the eldest in Mangalore Diocese during the celebration of 125 years.
She was remembering entire family history till she was 102 years old.
She was excellent in cooking and she used to prepare varieties of pickles for entire family till she was bedridden.
She wants her daughter, daughter in law, all grandchildren and great grandchildren to give her a visit regularly. Otherwise she scolds at them.
Every month she looks forward for Holy Communion which the Parish Priest brings home. She spends her time in Rosary and prayers.
She likes children a lot, even though if it’s a picture of a child on a book or any.
Her dream is to live till her great grandchildren get married.



By John B Monteiro
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Comment on this article

  • Joseph F. Gonsalves, Bannur, Puttur / Mangalroe q

    Tue, Oct 22 2013

    I wish all the best and good health to Helen to live as long as our God wishes.

    Wishing you dear Helen all the best.

    Dear Writer John B Monteiro,

    You have not specified the chapter of Genesis and specified only the verses 8-27. It is easily for anybody to search ready in hand.
    It is easy also for computer users to find out if they edit Methuselah.


    A few years back in a quiz competition this was asked and one person was able to answer among the crowd immediately

  • nelson, mangalore/kuwait

    Tue, Oct 22 2013

    Great innings Grandma. 107 and not out. May you live to enter the guinnes book of records. May your grand daughters also live your age cause only the blessed can do it.

  • Roella Alvares, Mumbai/Vamanjoor

    Tue, Oct 22 2013

    A person so rare to have in this world. May God shower her with her wishes provided she is good in health and memory. Old age should never be feared or looked down on. It is our journey through life. Many a times the younger generation find the older generation a burden forgetting that one day they too will be old and helpless. Without our older generation we would not have values and education and be in the places where we are today. God bless the older generation always. It is through their prayers we live. I miss my grandfather-in-law, my grandmother, my in-laws and all the older generation who left us.

  • ruben pinto, Australia

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Dear Vodlimai may god bless you with good health.
    Coming to the similarities of the article and melwyn lobo has the fragrance of jasmine anything to do with longevity? Anymore readers out there how can corroborate this?

  • Stany Dsouza, Miyar / Mumbai

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Wishing long life, healthy life and a big God bless to you Vodlimai.
    Hats off to the daughters-in-law. Lord will bless you. Amazing true story by John Monteiro.
    Keep writing. God bless you.

  • Tony Crasta, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Great story by the eminent author and writer and I thoroughly enjoyed reading the life history of Auntie Helen. Keep going Auntie, for you are the Blessed one amongst only a few chosen to live such a long and healthy life!

  • Robert George, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    A long life is considered a blessing of God. It is amazing and also exciting to read about Mrs. Helen Rego living up to the ripe old age of 107 and still going strong! At a time when the elderly are increasingly thought to be a burden, it is good to hear about her helpful, dutiful and compassionate daughters-in-law. Congrats, Mrs. Rego! May God’s blessings be with you always.

  • Renny Lobo (Rodrigues), Gurpur Kaikamba/ Abu Dhabi

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Thank you Daiji for the informative write up with regards to Helen Rego. Pray for her good health.

    As I have a great interest to know my ancestors, roots of Rodrigues/ Castelino's of Makale/ D'Silva of Cordel/Lobo's of Kudupu visited Dr. Michael Lobo in Bijai. According to the records of Dr. Lobo, my Grandmother, Rosaline (Rosa) Castelino (nee D'Silva)of Mundrel,Kudupu/ Cordel was the longest living Catholic of Mangalore Diocese who lived 105 years and died in 1975. This record was broken by Ruzar Fernand (Mr. Rosario Fernandes)of Kulshekar who lived 106 years. My vodlimai was very healthy except for loosing sight at the old age Even then, did not depend on any one for daily course. Remember seeing her third set of teeth (very much like Cat teeth). Cordel D'Silva's decendants are known to live a long life.

  • John Dcruz, Bantwal

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Vodlimain Nathra, Pontura polaili, thanka kazar kelah. Lamb Auk and bori balaiki magtha odlimaink.

    Bore Magthath
    John & Kutam(D'Cruz Family root from Bantwal)


    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Dear Ajjiyamm HAPPY BIRTH DAY TO YOU Long long Jeo AAMEEN. Hamare liya toda duwa karo aur ap hamesha khush raho

  • Angeline, Mumbai/Kuwait

    Mon, Oct 21 2013


  • Dr. Edward Lewis, Bejai, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Wishing Long Life to Dear Hodlimai (Grandma).

  • melwyn lobo, bejai, mangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    It is wonderful to read about Helen Rego and I wish her long life. Your write up regarding Jasmine flowers brought back to my memory of the Jasmine flowers cultivated at Bejai and Barebail and surrounding areas by Catholic Christians.There was and still demand, for these Mangalorean Jasmine flowers due to it's fragrance compared to the Udipi Jasmine. With changes in the real estate business, the jasmine cultivation is almost wiped out,except for the few families who still cultivate it.To add to the centurion list ,there is another one in Bejai, we call her Maggibai and I understand she is around 103 years. She was also a Jasmine cultivator and hope you get some opportunity to meet her

  • Mrs. Irene Rego & fly, Mathikere , Bangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Many many happy returns of the day dear maushi . God bless you .

  • Ronald, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Brother I wish the same to all Regos.

  • Lydia Lobo, Kadri

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Foremost, I salute the dedication of the author to collect all the information of this great lady.

    Thank you for this very informative article without which we would have never known that Mangalore is home to a lady whose journey lasted 106 years and still counting...

    Present generation is victim of BP, Diabetes or heart ailments as early as 30 years of age. I am amazed at this lady's health status.

    I wish Mrs. Helen good health and comfort in the company of her family members.

  • Bulsam, Mangalore

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    As the Chinese say, "May you have good fortune as great as the eastern oceans, and may your life last as long as the southern mountains".
    Happy 106th Birthday! God bless!!

  • Francis, Moodbidri/Dubai

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Laamb jiyo Odlimai!

  • Steevan Rego, Shirva/Qatar/Nagori

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Long Live Regos

  • Vasant Raj, Mangalore / Abudhabi

    Mon, Oct 21 2013

    Wishing Long Life to Dear Ajjamma.

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