Photo courtesy of Schierholt Pictures
Rockland, Maine, is a charming New England city nestled along the Atlantic Coast. Visitors are enchanted by the opportunities to sail aboard a windjammer, explore the Maine Lighthouse Museum, and enjoy local seafood. It’s a lifestyle that Rockland’s 7,000 residents have embraced for years, but perhaps none more so than 101-year-old Virginia Oliver, the oldest, licensed lobster fisherman in the world.
Oliver was born and raised in Rockland. She’s known to some as “Ginny.” But to most people, she’s affectionately called “The Lobster Lady.” This centenarian has been sailing the seas since she was 8 years old, and she doesn’t have any plans to slow down.
A Labor of Love
Oliver, the Lobster Lady, and her son Max, 78, go lobstering three days every week. Oliver told Growing Bolder she wakes up at 4 a.m. on the days she heads out to sea. She captains her own 30-foot boat, named Virginia, which is perhaps as recognizable to locals as the Lobster Lady herself. She says she never gets seasick, even on the roughest seas.
Along the way, Oliver amassed a sizable collection of traps.
“I have 200 lobster traps of my own,” she said. “I band the lobsters and (measure them) to make sure they are legal.”
And while she lives for the enjoyment of life on the water, she also enjoys the fruits of her labor.
“I cook them, pick them out, and then we have lobster rolls,” Oliver explained. “I like to cook a lot, and I cook and give them to my kids.”
Virginia Oliver is a living local legend. She was born in her parents’ home on Clarendon Street in June 1920, and she never left the area.
“I still live on the same street,” she said.
Oliver grew up lobstering. Her father owned and operated a small seafood store, where she would assist in the delivery of local lobster and observe the fishermen at work. At 8 years old, little Virginia began taking her father’s boat out on the water with her older brother.
This family business grew over the years. Oliver married when she was a teenager. When her husband started lobstering in 1945, she joined him. It was an activity they shared for decades until he died 14 years ago.
Now the legacy continues with her son, Max, one of Oliver’s four children who all live in Rockland. The family gets together on Saturdays for dinner.
Challenges at Sea
Studies have shown that maintaining an active lifestyle is key to increasing our lifespan. The Lobster Lady is living proof. However, there’s no denying that aging comes with obstacles.
Not long ago, Oliver suffered an injury while lobstering.
“I was cleaning the lights over my lavatory, and I stepped down,” she explained. “Because I didn’t look, I fell down off the mat and I broke my wrist.”
Growing Bolder CEO Marc Middleton observed during the interview, “When that happens to a parent of ours or a loved one, we want to wrap them in bubble wrap and say ‘Do you see what happens? You need to stay home,’ but you disagree with that completely, right?”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Oliver responded. “I’m not going to do that.”
The Lobster Lady didn’t let the injury slow her down. Instead, she learned how to band and measure the lobster using only her left hand.
And then there was the time that she was saving some crabs for her son-in-law.
“That crab bit me! I had seven stitches,” she said. “If it had been on my little finger, it would have bit it off!
Whether it’s life on the sea or driving her GMC four-wheel-drive truck to the store every day, Oliver prides herself on her independence.
Even past the age of 100, she has a clear picture of what matters in life. Her advice is to keep doing what you love even when others make waves with negative, ageist ideas.
“I’m not going to let (other people) tell me what to do,” she said. “I’m going to do what I want to do. I just go one day at a time.”
The Lobster Lady sails onward, always ready for the next day’s catch.