Lobstering is one of the most dangerous occupations in the country, but there’s no stopping 101-year-old Virginia Oliver from doing it.
Virginia, known to her friends as Ginny, was born on Claredon Street in Rockland, Maine, in June 1920. She still lives on the same street where her parents, Julia Buttomer and Alvin Rackliff, resided for many years, but in a different house. There, she raised her four children.
The centenarian used to live alone, but nowadays, her 78-year-old son Max spends the nights at her house. This arrangement makes it easier for the pair to get up early.
Virginia wakes up long before dawn and drives with Max to Owls Head, where her late husband’s boat, aptly named “Virginia,” is docked.
She works on Penobscot Bay and lobsters 200 pots in the waters three days a week, May through November. While her sea legs aren’t as steady as they used to be, a rocking boat feels like home to her than anywhere else.
The mother and son make a great team. Max hauls the pots while his mother bands the lobsters.
Virginia is right-handed, but she has to use her left hand to work because she broke her wrist a few years ago.
When she’s not busy with lobsters, she loads bait bags with pogeys or menhaden, which are small fish meant to lure the crustaceans in.
“They call me the Lobster Lady,” she said.
Virginia is the oldest lobster fisher in the state and probably the oldest one in the world.
Wayne Gray, a family friend, revealed that Virginia had another scare a couple of years ago when a crab snipped her finger, and she needed to get seven stitches. Despite that, she never considered hanging up her lobster traps.
“The doctor admonished her, said ‘Why are you out there lobstering?’” Wayne said. “She said, ‘Because I want to’.”
In some ways, Virginia was destined for this life. Her father fished for lobsters and sardines to sell to a local factory. At just 8 years old, she would go lobstering with her dad and her big brother, John, at a time when it was regarded as a man’s job.
“I’ve done it all my life, so I might as well keep doing it,” she said.
However, she is concerned about the health of the state’s lobster population, which she said faces heavy fishing pressure these days.
Just as her late husband had, all of Virginia’s four kids lobster.
Virginia says “being the boss” is what she likes best about lobstering. She only goes out if she wants to and loves the independence that life on the water has provided her and her family.
As for her long and healthy life, Max says the secret is his mother’s work ethic. On the other hand, Virginia says it’s all about being independent.
“You just have to keep going otherwise you would be in a wheelchair or something,” she said.
Most days after being out at sea, Virginia drives her white pick-up truck down the street to the grocery store.
“I usually bake beans on Saturday and (my kids) come for supper,” says Virginia, who is famous for the doughnuts, cakes, and brownies she bakes.
She gets to bring into her kitchen some lobsters that she traps each week. She likes to have them in a classic Maine lobster roll, grilled bun, little mayo, and “nothing else.”
When asked when she plans to retire from lobstering, Virginia said, “When I die.”
“Everybody gonna die sometime,” she said. “You not gonna live forever, so why let it bother you?”
Virginia recently got her fishing license renewed and is excited to lobster this summer with her son Max.
Click on the video below to learn more about Maine’s “Lobster Lady.”
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