Santa Clarita Valley centenarian dies Wednesday at age 106

Claire McWilliams smiles as she talks with Malcolm Blue during her 106-year birthday celebration and Thanksgiving meal at Canterbury Village in Valencia on Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017. Nikolas Samuels/The Signal

After more than a century of a very full life, one of Santa Clarita’s oldest residents, Claire McWilliams, died Wednesday surrounded by family and friends. She was 106.

The Signal profiled McWilliams on her 106th birthday this past November. In that story, her son described her as having a toughness and tenderness that made her half-Indiana Jones, half-Mother Teresa.

Malcolm Blue, who met McWilliams in church shortly after he moved to the SCV more than 20 years ago, described the birthday party, and how vibrant she was.

“At one point when she was singing, ‘Happy Birthday,’ she clapped her hands over her head like a prizefighter. She was a perky little thing,” he recalled. “She had an amazing, incredible life.”

After graduating with a nursing degree in 1936, “which was unheard of then,” Blue noted, she was a “public health nurse,” he said, who drove up and down the coast in a woodie wagon — one of America’s earlier station wagons, giving health care to migrant workers.

After several years of service there, she moved to Hawaii, where she also had family, and was an RN at the time of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor.

She had a front seat to several significant events in not just U.S., but world history, Blue added, sharing a story from her about how she fled China when Chiang Kai-shek’s government took over, as her husband was a pilot for the now-defunct Pan Am, flying out of hubs in the Far East.

She always had a great sense of humor, Blue recalled.

“One night she had a fall and she pushed herself on her floor to get to the emergency cord,” he said, and when seven first-responders showed up at her door, she quizzically asked, “‘How come there’s seven of you this time,’” Blue recalled. The first-responder in charge sheepishly responded that it’s a slow night, and most of the officials on seen had never met anyone your age before.

“And she just got the biggest kick out of that,” he said.

From a previous story: Santa Clarita resident celebrates 106th birthday

With showtunes playing and a zebra print and pink fur trimmed balloon that read “another year of fabulous” floating behind her, Santa Clarita resident Claire McWilliams celebrated her 106th birthday on Thursday.

Surrounded by friends and family, the Southern California native smiled as she dined on a full Thanksgiving feast in the dining room at Canterbury Village in Newhall, where she has lived for several decades.

One of the 106-year-old’s two adult sons, Mick McWilliams, came down from Washington to share his mother’s big day with her.

“We get together every year to celebrate another year of life,” he said. “She’s got a zest for life.”

McWilliams has been known to her loved ones as faithful and rock-steady, her son said.

As a single mother, she served as her sons’ personal cheerleader, always supporting them in their academics, extracurricular activities and their faith.

Noted by many for her focus on wellness, McWilliams holds her master’s degree in public health and served as a nurse for burn victims after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Her combined toughness and tenderness has led her son to describe her as half Indiana Jones and half Mother Teresa.

Close friend and former priest at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Lynn Jay speaks highly of the 106-year-old’s feistiness.

She recalls a story McWilliams told her where she was in San Joaquin during the Dust Bowl era and was trying to make her way past troops and ordered them out of her way.

“You don’t cross Claire,” Jay said.

Also highlighting her loving nature, her friends said McWilliams is incredibly accepting of people of diverse backgrounds.

“I fell in love with her cute personality,” friend Deanna Gannon said. “She’s just a special lady.”

McWilliams keeps as active as she can, according to her caretaker of a decade Lupita Colmenares.

Every morning, McWilliams reads the newspaper. When the weather permits, she spends time outside and especially likes seeing dogs and babies when she goes on walks in her wheelchair.

Other than some minor issues that come with her advanced age, Colmenares said McWilliams has no health problems at all.

“That’s the secret,” Colmenares said. “She has a good appetite, a good attitude and she believes in God.”

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