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Service, with a smile; Gardner native, 95, served in WWII, operated B & B.

Byline: Lynne Klaft

LEOMINSTER - Claire C. Tousignant has seen and done an extraordinary number of things in her 95 years - from meeting Eleanor Roosevelt to nursing sailors during World War II, seeing a man land on the moon and marrying the true love of her life at 93.

But what stands out in her mind most began when her son, then 17, was injured in a car accident in the late 1960s.

"His brain was traumatically injured and he was in a coma for nine weeks. At that time there was no treatment other than being in a nursing home," said Mrs. Tousignant.

During this time she met eight other families who had children with traumatic brain injuries.

"We got together and knew that something had to be done. We went to Washington, we went to the Statehouse, and nothing came of it. So we banded together and started the Massachusetts Brain Injury Foundation," she said.

The foundation, now the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts, was one of the first in the nation, is still active today and provides support groups for parents and research funding.

"We have a national foundation now and what's wonderful is that more doctors have gone into the field, hospitals know how to treat these injuries and research is being done. I believe one is born with one mission in life - to leave the world a better place, and that's the one thing I hope I have done," Mrs. Tousignant said.

Her son is alive today and living in a group home with round-the-clock care.

And there is more to Mrs. Tousignant's life story.

Born and raised in Gardner as Claire Corona Lamoureux, Mrs. Tousignant remembers at age 7 waiting for the first ice cube to be formed in the new refrigerator in the family kitchen.

"Before that, you had an iceman come and bring a big piece of ice to put in your icebox," she said.

"I was born with a spirit of adventure, which my father had. I went to college in Canada because it was a choice of a Catholic college in Lowell or Ottawa. My uncle was a priest there. It was a new country, a new adventure," she said.

She graduated in 1938 as a registered nurse and then moved back to Massachusetts to take up a new position.

"It was called the Pratt Diagnostic Hospital (in Boston) and now it's known as the New England Medical Center. Then I wanted a change so worked at Phillips House, the private wing of Mass General. It was a very interesting place to work, met some interesting people there," said Mrs. Tousignant with a twinkle in her eye.

She escorted Eleanor Roosevelt to her son's room at Phillips House. The first lady's son was recovering from a car accident and Mrs. Tousignant heard him say to Mrs. Roosevelt, "What did the old man say?" referring to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Then World War II began. She joined the US Navy and was stationed on the USS Tranquility for four years, stopping in Hawaii and Okinawa.

During one of her leaves home to Gardner, an old friend called her and asked her out on a date. She told him that she could not, that she was going back to her ship that day.

"So he asked if he could drive me to Boston and that was the beginning of the romance!" said Mrs. Tousignant.

Letters between the two and dates after the war ended led to a wedding with Edmond Tousignant, and eventually three children.

After Mr. Tousignant retired, they moved to New Hampshire. "We called it The Farm, even though we didn't even have a cat," said Mrs. Tousignant, adding that she turned it into a bed and breakfast after becoming a little bored with rural life.

Mr. Tousignant died on The Farm in the late 1990s, leaving Mrs. Tousignant a widow after more than 50 years of marriage.

"We were always good friends with Jim and Martha Moran (of Leominster), saw them socially a lot. Two years after Ed died, Martha passed away," said Mrs. Tousignant.

She and Mr. Moran were together for seven years before marrying two years ago.

"He was brilliant. If something had not been invented yet and was needed, he invented it. We had this piece of equipment, cone-shaped, in the backyard that had gone into space and back. I thought I knew about love until I knew him, but we did have nine wonderful years together," she added.

She lives now at Sunrise Senior Living in Leominster and says she has "slowed down," but enjoys the people she meets there.

"I have lived a full life and it's been a wonderful ride. The only thing that makes me sad is thinking about the things that I will miss: what will happen with my children, my grandchildren and what will happen with our world. I am a spiritual person, have faith in God. My only prayers are ones of gratitude, I am so lucky to be here," said Mrs. Tousignant.



CUTLINE: (1) Claire C. Tousignant, above, at home in Leominster's Sunrise Senior Living, (2) and at top left, photographed as a Navy nurse in World War II and at a childhood birthday party in Gardner.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jan 18, 2013
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