At 110, Eva Fridell had ageless spirit, sense of humor

In the end, Eva Fridell was tiny, a 70-pound wisp with a voice as soft as the wind in the trees, a big laugh, an independent spirit and more than a century's worth of memories.

At 110, Mrs. Fridell was believed to have been the state's oldest person when she died Saturday of natural causes at her grandson's home in Sequim. She lived independently until she was 106, and she was featured in a story about longevity in The Seattle Times in November.

"You know, 'little but mighty,' " said one of her two surviving children, Louise McCausland, 93, of Redmond. "I guess that sums it up."

Born Eva Grace Greenwood in Vancouver, B.C., on May 27, 1893, Mrs. Fridell didn't have an easy childhood. At 3, she and her siblings were left at a Poulsbo orphanage by her mother, who had divorced her hard-drinking, seafaring husband and joined the Klondike gold rush to seek her fortune in Alaska.

By her own account, Mrs. Fridell was a plucky, independent child who stood up for herself.

She told one story with particular relish: During a rehearsal for a Christmas presentation at the orphanage, a teacher angrily derided her for being the only child able to perfectly recite her poem from memory, accusing her of "showing off."

But she got the last laugh on "the old fart," as Mrs. Fridell referred to her teacher in an interview last year. She vowed she would not recite the poem at the presentation, and when the time came, took the stage, bowed, looked at the audience, bowed again, and sat down.

"I wasn't going to give him the satisfaction," she gloated.

She married the boy next door, Louis Fridell, a Swedish immigrant who barely spoke English. She never finished high school, but throughout her life she read constantly and eclectically, whether about history, astronomy, philosophy or politics. She could — and often did — recite verses from poems she had memorized decades, if not a century, earlier.

Mr. Fridell learned to speak English, and the two had three children, a son and two daughters, and for a time, operated a laundry in Omak. Mr. Fridell died in 1974 at age 84; their son Robert died in 2000.

On her 100th birthday, Mrs. Fridell met — for the first time — her half-sister, Margaret Parsons of British Columbia, who was then in her 80s. Their father had remarried in Canada, and the two had known only vaguely of one another for much of their lives, McCausland said.

For the last five years, as her legs and hearing failed, Mrs. Fridell was cared for by her grandson, Gregg Saunders, and his wife, Karen.

Saunders recalled being amazed as his grandmother recited works of Shakespeare from memory. "She'd start reciting 'King Lear,' 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'; she could go almost verbatim through the whole play."

Though she could no longer walk in them, Mrs. Fridell still admired fancy shoes, a lifelong passion.

"She loved dainty little Cinderella shoes," said McCausland. "She didn't want those big clumpers they walk in now."

She wore a size 4-1/2, which became increasingly harder to find over the years. Often, McCausland said, the smallest size she could find was a 5 — too large for her tiny feet.

Many people asked how she could have lived so long, and her family always struggled to answer. Her younger daughter, Jean Saunders, 79, of Port Angeles, says she thinks the secret was her mother's easygoing attitude. "She'd always say, 'Jean, for heaven's sake, just take one day at a time.' ... Throughout life, she's just taken things as they come."

Gregg Saunders credited his grandmother's "mental attitude" and her "real flair for living," including her inquisitive mind.

"Her lifelong desire to learn probably was the main thing," Saunders said.

Mrs. Fridell herself had some theories, which she shared last year. "You've gotta have a mind of your own, that's for sure," Mrs. Fridell said. She also noted she wasn't against "cussing" when the occasion called for it.

"It helps you along," she said.

In addition to her two daughters, her grandson and her half-sister, Mrs. Fridell is survived by four more grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and 10 great-great-grandchildren.

The family plans a private memorial service.

Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or