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New Suffolk woman turns 100 on Thanksgiving Day

Mary Leah Brophy’s memory is as sharp as a tack. Born in Great Neck on Thanksgiving Day 1920, she remembers clearly visiting her grandmother’s house on Champlin Place in Greenport over many summers when she was a child.

“It was a small, lovely village and we’d walk everywhere,” she remembered. “My grandmother would say, ‘Did you see anyone you know downtown?’ She called the village ‘downtown.’ ”

“A martini every night and never making a left-hand turn.”

Mary Leah Brophy on the key to reaching 100

On Thanksgiving Day 2020, Ms. Brophy will turn 100. She will have a low-key celebration at her daughter Kristin’s home in Greenport and then be driven back to her handsome waterfront home in New Suffolk, where she has lived since falling in love with the hamlet many years ago.

“Did I think I’d get to be a hundred years old?” she asked. “I don’t think I ever really thought about it, even though my sister Marilyn, who lives in Peconic Landing, turned 96 on Nov. 21.”

Asked about her secret to reaching the century mark, she is quick to answer: “A martini every night and never making a left-hand turn.”

In an interview, Ms. Brophy’s crisp voice and clear memories makes her sound like someone decades younger. She remembers dates and names and every aspect of growing up in Great Neck and in the decades that followed. Her memory is so sharp that the interviewer came away thinking it would surely be best to avoid left-hand turns and possibly add a vodka martini to the nightly ritual.

“I was born in Great Neck on Thanksgiving Day in 1920,” she said. “My parents were Victor and Evelyn Sahner. My dad in those years was quite successful. We had a live-in maid and my parents had a beautiful home. It was all good until the 1929 crash and my father lost everything. We were without funds and we had to move into an apartment over the movie theater in Great Neck. I was 11 when my father was killed in an automobile accident.”

To help support her family, Leah, as she calls herself, left school and began working as a model. She also worked as a tour guide at the 1939 World’s Fair. “My dad worked as a salesman and he died in Indiana when he was on his way home for Easter,” she said.

“We all had to work,” she recalled. “My mom had never worked, but her doctor gave her a job as a nurse. Marilyn worked her way up in her career at Time Inc. She climbed the ladder and was very successful and she owned a home in Quogue. When she sold that home she moved to Peconic Landing.”

When she was a teenager, Marilyn Sahner was a national champion swimmer, winning the 1,500-meter competition twice. She tried out — and won — a place on the 1940 American Olympic swimming team. The Games were to take place in Helsinki, but were canceled at the outbreak of World War II. 

“I cried all day when they canceled it,” Ms. Sahner recalled. “The Games were next scheduled for 1948, and I tried out and I missed making the team by an eyelash. I cried all day again.”

Leah was 20 when she married Frank Brophy in 1941. He died a decade or so ago. He enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II and served in the South Pacific. “He was a very proud Marine,” she said. “He was 33 months overseas, including Guadalcanal.

“He came home after the war and worked as a salesman,” she said. “We lived in Levittown for a while. Then in Wantagh. Then, about thirty years ago, we found New Suffolk. Being a salesman, my husband would come out on weekends. We never wanted to leave here.”

Today, Ms. Brophy lives in the Second Street house with her son John, 56. Her daughter, Kristin, is in Greenport; her son Peter lives in Oregon. Her son Michael, who served with the Marines in Vietnam, died of cancer. She has five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. 

“I will be very thankful on Thanksgiving Day,” she said. “We are very careful because of COVID. We don’t take chances. I am very thankful I have such good health. As Kristin said, I always took good care of myself. I exercised long before people did that, and I watched what I ate.”

Then there are the vodka martinis and never making a left-hand turn.

“There are so many accidents with left-hand turns,” she said. “So I don’t do that.”