A Life: Jesse Scott, 1907 - 2012; 'A Fellow You Could Tell Just Enjoyed Life'
Jesse Scott, of Newport, looks at a certificate of recognition he received last April at an American Legion ceremony in Newport.(Valley News - Theophil Syslo) Purchase photo reprints »
Newport — It is not unusual to live in New Hampshire and love snowmobiling, four-wheeling and fishing.
But if you are lucky to live beyond 100, those pursuits are generally not on your daily to do list, unless you were Newport’s Jesse Scott.
Scott, who died at home Oct. 22, 2012, at the age of 105, never stopped doing what he loved, right up until his death.
“He was just a determined individual who wanted to make the most out of every day of his life,” said his neighbor and close friend of 27 years, Bill Bartlett. “He was an amazing guy.”
Scott’s daughter, Maxine Houle, said her father never acted his age. Just days before his death he was on Lake Sunapee checking salmon with Dick Nichols of the state Fish and Game Department.
At a memorial service shortly after her father died, Houle told the story of when they received a call from the Social Security office.
“A gentleman was coming to verify that Dad was still alive at 104 and that Molly (O’Brien, Scott’s other daughter) and I weren’t scamming the government,” Houle said.
“What a presentation Dad made as he came zipping around the corner of the house on his 4-wheeler waving to the guy. Because of his foolishness, we still had to show an ID card for verification.
“The look of pure joy in dad’s eyes when he was taking off on his snowmobile or four wheeler was one to be remembered always,” Houle said.
Jesse Walter Scott was born in 1907 and grew up on Back Lake in Pittsburg, N.H. From an early age he embraced the outdoors. His passion and love for the wilderness would come to define and shape his life.
“Back in those days, you learned to live off the land,” said Molly O’Brien. “Dad loved nature.”
At age 16 Scott became a outdoors guide in Pittsburg to earn money for his family. He led hunting parties on canoe trips down the Allagash River in Maine and guided moose hunting trips in Canada. He also competed in Sportsman Shows, displaying his skills at logrolling, canoe tilting, jousting and fly-casting, for which he held the state title for years.
“I have pictures of dad at sportsman shows in Cleveland and Boston,” said Houle, who is writing a book about her father. “He was very good at log rolling.”
In 1931, Scott became a deputy Conservation officer with the state of New Hampshire and then a full-time officer in the Newport and Lake Sunapee region in 1941. After serving in the 10th Mountain Division ski troops in Italy during World War II, Scott returned to work as a conservation officer, rising to District 3 Chief in 1962 and retiring 10 years later in 1972 after 31 years.
He shared his love of the outdoors with his children, teaching them everything he knew.
“He taught us how to shoot a gun, how to bait a hook with a worm,” said O’Brien.
The family car was also his official conservation car, said his daughters, and their dad wouldn’t think twice about leaving everyone on the side of the road while he rushed off to answer a call for help.
“I was a Conservation officer’s daughter,” Houle said at the memorial service. “Growing up, I walked with dad through just about every acre of woods in the state. He taught me to love nature and protect and respect the environment.”
Houle recalled her father handing her a bottle to feed a baby deer, a raccoon named Johnny and baby wild boar running through the house.
Lt. Robert Bryant of the state Fish and Game said he got to know Scott because his father was also a conservation officer at the same time.
“I remember going on patrols with my father and Jesse. He was a fun-loving guy and had a handshake even in his later years that would crumble most men,” said Bryant. “He always wanted to be out front when we went snowmobiling and he was tough to keep up with. Jesse was a fellow you could tell just enjoyed life.”
The Scott daughters remember their father as warm and kind, with a great sense of humor and a playful approach to life.
“We learned to dance by standing on the top of his feet while he moved across the living room to the music of mom playing piano,” Houle said at the service.
Dad was also protective. Boyfriends were investigated and no off-color joke or swearing was allowed in front of his daughters.
When Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show, Houle said their father jump in front of the TV so they wouldn’t see the rock and roll star swivel his hips.
“He was loving, caring and protective,” Houle said.
After retirement most people start to slow down a bit. Not Scott. Seems he was just getting warmed up.
His good friend Ted Niboli said Scott, whose eyesight was nearly gone at his advanced age, was on his 4-wheeler on the trails near his home two weeks before he died. Failing eyesight could not keep him from one of his favorite pastimes.
“He’d would bring binoculars with him to see if anything was coming,” recalled Niboli.
Niboli chuckles when he thinks about Scott. “Oh, the stories I could tell. Jesse was a real character. Here he was at 105 and was doing everything he wanted to do.”
It was just a few years ago in the spring when Scott planned to go snowmobiling down a trail that would take him across a swamp, Niboli said.
‘I said, Jesse, don’t go down there. Spring is coming and you’ll go through the ice in the swamp,’ Niboli remembered. “Well, he went through the ice and had to walk a mile and a half up hill to get home.”
Niboli scolded his friend. “I told you not to do that. You could have had a heart attack,” Niboli said. “He told me, ‘I almost did but I took three nitroglycerin pills before I got off the snowmobile.”
“That is how he lived every day of his life. He was an amazing old man.”
Bartlett and others said Scott was a natural with people and they instantly took a liking to him.
“He was such a magnet to draw people to him,” Bartlett said. “He was so full of life.”
Houle said even those he caught as a conservation officer breaking the law like him. “He was always fair and compassionate.”
Neighbor Dave McCrillis remembers Scott as someone who was outgoing and friendly, eager to meet new people, make a new friend.
“I used to ride my bike by his house and he always yelled out to me, so I stopped and that is how we became friends,” McCrillis said.
Friday nights were lively at the Scott home with neighbors and friends dropping by for drinks, conversation and some musical entertainment.
“Ma and dad loved people,” said Houle. “They were a team. She played piano and he played the violin.”
Niboli said his friend “always enjoyed a party and a good time.
“He was very good at pool. Could beat almost anyone.”
Those informal get-togethers continued up to the week before Scott died. His wife Avis, who he married in 1943, died in 2005. Scott’s son, Richard, died in 2010.
With his hearing mostly gone, Scott sometimes relied on Niboli, who cooked meals for him, to translate.
“I guess he could hear my voice because it had the right pitch. When someone stopped by I might get a call. ‘Ted, come on down. You mix the drinks and interpret.’
“He was a dear person and like a father to me.”
Bartlett called him “the best friend I ever had. I could always rely on him.”
Though his hearing and eyesight failed, Scott’s mind stayed sharp. “Mentally, he was with it until the day he died,” said Barlett.
Beside his military service and career as a conservation officer, Scott also served three terms as a state representative, was a deputy sheriff for Sullivan County and court bailiff and was a state crime commissioner for eight years.
He also held the Boston Post Cane Award in 2003 as Newport’s oldest resident and was the oldest surviving World War II veteran of the 10th Mountain Division. He held memberships in several organizations including the Conservation Officers Association, N.H. Chief of Police Association, Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
Houle said she has finished about 14 chapters of her book about her father and plans to keep writing with no determined date to finish. Her reasons for the book are not about greatness or great accomplishments but something more important.
“He’s my dad, was my first love and was always my best friend,” she said. “He was always there for me.”
“He had an awesome wit and made light of his age,” said O’Brien.
Houle and O’Brien said their father never spoke of death.
“One time he said to me, ‘Maxine, no one ever came back and said, “Jesse, it is a great place, so why don’t you join us.” ’ ”
At the memorial service, Houle remembered something Scott once said to his daughters.
“He always said ‘When I go fishing and the fish are biting so good that I don’t want to come home again because as I look across the lake, Avis is standing there waving to me.’ ”
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org