SHIRLEY — Continuing a New England tradition that dates back more than a century, the Boston Post Cane was recently presented to the town’s oldest resident, John Casey, who turns 101 in December.
Select Board Chair Bryan Sawyer presented the cane during an informal ceremony at the Casey home, attended by family members, neighborhood friends and town officials.
According to his stepson, Edmund Huntley, John Vincent Casey, known as Jack, was moved by the honor and “very excited” about the event at his home. “It really meant a lot to him,” he said.
Recalling family history, Huntley described his stepfather as a man with an eventful past, including three years in the Army and a successful civilian career.
Photo albums and documents the family leafed through recently turned up some interesting information.
A World War II veteran who served stateside during the war, Casey achieved the rank of first lieutenant. A knee injury, however, cut his military career short.
Casey grew up in Windham, Montana, where his father ran the state mental institution and the family lived in a house on its grounds. He enjoyed exploring the countryside and often revisited the area over the years.
Casey’s civilian resume included a top position at United Airlines, where he was in charge of over 300 flight attendants. He worked there for 20 years, moving across the country as he was promoted.
He later worked at Hanscom Field Air Force Base.
Casey continued to be interested in military matters and often visited the former Fort Devens.
Before moving to Shirley more than 20 years ago, John and Nancy Casey lived in Littleton.
The couple will celebrate their 41st wedding anniversary in October.
An avid gardener and animal lover, Casey took pride in tending to his property and kept a lush green lawn that, at 98, he still mowed himself, only recently turning those duties over to a landscaper.
Launched in 1909 as a publicity push by the Boston Post newspaper to boost its circulation, the newspaper owner, Edwin Grozier, had 700 canes manufactured — black ivory with 24-carat, rolled gold heads — to distribute to select boards in New England’s largest towns at the time.
The canes were to be presented to “the oldest living man” in each town. That criterion was amended after 1930 to include women, a decade after women won the right to vote.
Of those that received the canes, many communities later had copies made up to hand out, with the ornate originals stored for safekeeping or placed on display. The cane is meant to be passed on, from one recipient to the next.
Some communities have continued the tradition, others let it lapse. The town of Ayer, for example, had discontinued the Boston Post Cane ceremony but reinstated it last year.
Cases of lost and found Boston Post canes have been reported, notably in Dracut and Burlington, according to a Boston Post Cane website that tracks such matters — or did — the last entry was in 2016.
The cane’s namesake newspaper, The Boston Post, which was founded in 1831 and claimed a circulation of over a million readers in the 1930s, folded in 1956.