Charlotte Rowse has lived her whole 96 years in Prince Rupert. She swims three times a week, skied well into her ninth decade, and boated until last year. When she was 86 she was an Olympic torchbearer.
She has held annual Christmas sherry parties for the last 68 years. In November, she celebrated her 70th wedding anniversary with her husband Denis who turned 97 a few weeks ago.
She has travelled the world and spent her 60th and 65th wedding anniversaries in Maui with 29 other people who shared the celebration with them. She has raised five children, has 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
Prior to COVID-19 she played the pipe organ at Church of the Annunciation and spent time on Tuesdays playing the piano for students at Annunciation School. She sings in the Rotary Choir.
She still makes all her own Christmas wreaths and decorates her home each year. She loves entertaining, socializing, and is known by family, friends, and neighbours as the ‘Potluck Queen’.
Charlotte point-blank told The Northern View not to waste time writing about her because there was nothing interesting anyone would want to read. I digress … with all due respect to this formidable and classic lady, we have to disagree.
Charlotte’s flame for life isn’t dimming and she is not slowing down. In 2010, Charlotte joined in the festivities and opening celebrations of the Vancouver Olympics by being a torchbearer. She ran the Olympic flame from the Jim Ciccone Civic Center down Third Ave. all the way into downtown where she passed it on to another bearer.
“I still have that torch. I thought it was quite an honour getting it,” she said modestly. “I don’t know why they gave it to me, but I did carry the torch through the town.”
Charlotte has never thought of moving away from Prince Rupert and said the people are just wonderful.
“I was absolutely born right here in the old hospital that is gone now,” Charlotte said. “I grew up here and never left.”
Her father was Charles Balagno, who she says was known for his tulips.
“Dad was known for his wonderful tulip garden. He had thousands of tulips. It was beautiful,” she said.
As well as being known for the colourful flowers, her dad set the tone in Charlotte’s life with a love of music. In the days of Charlie Chaplin and silent movies, he played the piano in the local cinema to the films. His music was a precursor of today’s movie soundtracks.
Charlotte learned to play the piano and shared her talents, until the pandemic, every week with city school children. She plays the piano for all of their choir and their musical productions. Charlotte recently played at her granddaughter’s wedding, and also tickled the ivories at a piano in Cowpuccino’s. Her own baby grand graces her Victorian-style living room with the classic elegance of a well mannered time now past. Stepping into her living room it is quite easy to picture people standing around the piano in song with cut-crystal glasses of sherry in hand.
Charlotte thrives on social activities and loves entertaining. For just less than 70 years, she has hosted an annual Christmas sherry party. Her tenacious spirit is not letting COVID-19 shadow her tradition. This year Charlotte plans to still hold her party in drive-by fashion while bundled up at very safe social distance sitting on her front porch. Her guests are invited to attend at prearranged time frames and share best wishes under tents from her front yard.
COVID-19 is affecting her and her zest for life with social isolation from friends and people. She is becoming lonely. The pandemic is dampening her spirits.
“I don’t like it. I don’t like it all. I want to see people,” she said. “You meet these people who are so good. They are such a good crowd and they all bring the most fantastic dishes.”
Charlotte has become known as the Potluck Queen due to her love of entertaining, with as many as 50 to 100 people in her home at times. It’s easy for her to be a hostess because she likes it so much and people always bring food to potlucks, she said.
“People never knew I was a lousy cook,” she joked.
Her politeness and social etiquette, which some would call old-fashioned, but others would call ‘proper’ become evident when she entertains. She only ever serves food on china and crockery – no paper plates are permitted.
She is steadfast in this rule even when one night so many people attended an event at her home all of the plates and dishes were used. To hold hard to her formalities and proprieties she engaged the use of the china plates which adorned her walls for decoration.
It is said the only time she and her husband Denis disagreed was about the amount of entertainment that was happening. Denis told Charlotte that she could not have potlucks ‘every night’. There were too many dinner parties in a week, he said. She had to limit it to every second night.
Charlotte met Denis when he came to Prince Rupert for summer work in biology when he was studying at university.
Charlotte said she thought she may attend university when she finished high school, however, a job came up in the Navy when she was 18. Her family encouraged her to take it and were so proud when she did. Charlotte’s spritely sense of humour became evident when she explained she worked there for a few years.
“It was fun. Me and eight guys. It was fun,” she said. “I made some great friends.”
The couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in November. She and Denis met in the late 1940s and were married in 1950. Charlotte stayed at home to raise their five children, who now have children of their own.
“We were both 26 when we got married,” Charlotte said. “I can’t think of any secret to a (long marriage). We just enjoy each other. That’s it. You have your up and downs.”
Over the years Denis and Charlotte have travelled as a family extensively but have slowed the travel down over the past two years. Charlotte said she no longer enjoys flying.
They have always been enthusiastic skiers, with Denis skiing well into his 90s. While he healed quickly after breaking a leg around the age of 94 skiing is no longer filling their days.
“We have had to put the skis away,” Charlotte said as she sighed. “The kids figure we are too old to ski. I’d still be on them, but I would be afraid if I fell and broke something. Now, we like to go to the hill and visit. We haven’t done that this year, but we will later on.”
Charlotte stays physically active by swimming at the aquatic centre at least three times a week, sometimes four.
“I love swimming,” she said. “We were brought up swimming in the harbour. We’d go camping and spend time in the cabins.”
They would boat across the harbour to the salt lakes on Porcher Island. Charlotte said they had a boat for years and would take the kids.
“We would always go boating with a couple of other boats. The boating around here is fantastic.”
They sold their boat last year Charlotte said because at the age of 95 it was getting hard to keep it maintained.
“We had a lot of really good years fishing and boating. We did catch the odd fish. It wasn’t a priority. There were great people on the waters,” Charlotte said, with their favourite places being Welcome Harbour and Oval Bay.
“This is the first year we haven’t gone,” she said. “I do miss it. However, we have such a good view here,” Charlotte said of her large picture window overlooking the harbour in focussed detail.
“I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would. We are getting on at 96,” she laughed. “It is time to give up boating.”
K-J Millar | Journalist
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