This is another early photo of Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier. (Yes, I spelled her middle name incorrectly when I was labeling the scanned pictures.)
My notes say this picture was from around 1919, shortly before Muriel was born, but that doesn’t quite fit with the photo of Margaret supposedly at age 20. (Margaret said her hair was fully white by the time she was 22 years old. If that were true, that other photo would have been around age 20. I’m betting that photo was actually from around age 28 or 30.)
Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier (1898 – 1972) was the daughter of John Tormey (Co. Meath, Ireland) and Margaret Cronin Tormey (Kilmallock, Co. Limerick, Ireland). Margaret Ann’s husband was Napoleon Mark Bernier.
As I’m going through papers in my files, I’m scanning a few that may interest Papa’s descendants. The first of these are kind of morbid, since they’re from when he died, but those are the papers that include references to some of his accomplishments.
He was Napoleon Mark Bernier and he died at age 65 after many heart attacks. (He documented each of them in his journal. If there was a Guinness Book record, he might have qualified.)
Here’s his obituary from the Boston Herald (newspaper), 23 Nov 1959.
Things to note about him, as described in the obituary:
… he holds numerous patents on building materials and equipment.
He was noted for the development of the first successful acoustical plaster and also of the first latex paints produced in New England.
He had also received a patent on a resilient asphalt used for playgrounds. [My note: I think this was the same surface used on tennis courts, worldwide, including all U.S. embassy tennis courts.]
Structures on which some of his new materials are in use include the John Hancock Life Insurance Co. building here and Riverside Church in New York.
He founded California Products Corp. (as California Stucco Products) in 1926.
He was a vice-president and director of the Vermiculite Association, Inc., of New York.
Remember, he didn’t finish sixth grade. He was a self-educated man.
Here’s a letter sent to my grandmother after Papa’s death. (Almost everyone called him “Leo,” but my grandmother and family members usually called him “Nap.”)
And, here’s a letter from Papa’s business partner, Bob Caldwell, on California Products letterhead. (Weirdly, months after my grandfather’s death, Bob still used the title of Executive Vice President.) The letter mentions Papa’s patents.
That letter was sent to my grandmother at 39 Dean Street in Belmont. That’s where my family lived. She moved in with us after selling her house (99 Louise Road, Belmont), and then bought her own home near us on Chilton Street. That didn’t work out. I think living alone kind of worried her. (It didn’t help that people — probably kids — kept stealing her underwear off the clothesline in her back yard. Just the underwear, nothing else.) She sold that house and moved into a two-family home at 6 Payson Road, near Cushing Square, Belmont.
A couple of memorial cards from Papa’s death:
The memorial card from his funeral mass.
Detail from that memorial card (yes, they spelled his name wrong):
And, typical of that era, a Jesuit Seminary Guild memorial card. It’s the kind of thing that gave families comfort.
Next: I have Papa’s personal journal, or one of his journals, anyway. A lot of his notes were about cooking, travel, and health.
He took a lot of pride in creating his own recipes, and grew most of his own ingredients in his backyard, in his greenhouse (attached to the dining room), or in his basement under special lights. If he hadn’t been an inventor and artist, I think he might have been a chef.
Here are some notes from his second trip to the Caribbean, in 1950. On that journey, he went to Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo, Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba before returning to Miami and then flying back to Boston.
Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste was the daughter of David DeCoste, a Canadian sea captain lost in the Bay of Fundy.
She was born in October 1870 in Havre Boucher, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada. She married Francois Napoleon Bernier. They moved to the U.S., and had children, Napoleon Mark Bernier and his younger sister, Oldna Elizabeth Bernier.
Margaret was nearly10 years younger than her husband. However, everyone who remembers her says that she’d rise nearly an hour before her husband, each day, to put on her makeup so he never saw her looking less than her best.
She was also a stylish woman. According to stories, she and her daughter Oldna used to take their clothes out every few months, and compare them with fashion magazines from Paris. They’d take the clothes apart and reconstruct them — sometimes with additions like fur trim (cut from coats that were being refashioned, too) or lace — so the Bernier women always looked like they had new, very fashionable clothes. (Margaret did the same with her son’s wardrobe, too.)
Margaret was known as the first woman to drive a car in the Somerville/Cambridge area. When she’d drive past men — who didn’t conceal their amazement to see a woman at the wheel — she used to thumb her nose at them. According to the stories, it was one of her favorite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Then — after getting through the flu epidemic –Francois Napoleon Bernier died at his sister-in-law’s flat in New York state.
Margaret survived on the income from the rental properties she and her late husband had owned.
After Oldna died, Margaret DeCoste Bernier invited Oldna’s widower — Harold Daykin — to move in with her. According to the stories, they had a boat, and went to lots of parties. At the time, it was a bit of a scandal. They didn’t care, and lived very happily until Margaret had a stroke and needed someone around the house, full-time. So, Margaret moved in with her son (Napoleon Mark Bernier) and his family.
My grandmother (Margaret’s daughter-in-law, Margaret Tormey Bernier) said that when Margaret (“Mum” to everyone) moved in after the stroke, everyone expected gray roots to show up as Margaret’s black hair grew out.
It never did. Apparently, she never got gray hair, ever.
She died in Somerville, Middlesex, MA on 20 August 1937.
My grandfather, Napoleon Mark Bernier, was known for being very stylish. That’s him as a young man, in the photo on the left.
His mother (Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste Bernier) and his sister, Oldna, made their own clothes and many of his, as well. During the Depression, Napoleon’s family was known for remaining fashionable. That’s because they’d take apart their older clothes and rework them — with some new materials — into styles that looked like fashion plates.
In later years, all of my grandfather’s shirts were custom made, and the rest of his wardrobe probably was, as well. He was finicky about his clothes.
(I remember the shirts — always pale yellow — were made from some fabric that was difficult to get. They may have been a very light silk. I recall that he needed “breathable” clothing for his annual vacations in the islands, usually Jamaica.)
The portrait with the dark background, above, was probably taken when he was in his 40s. He was a little older when my mother, Muriel Bernier, painted his portrait, shown below on the right. (The canvas reflected the flash when I took this photo. In the painted portrait, his suit is a very even shade of brown.)
He almost always wore browns and yellows, because they accented his coloring so well. He also favored two aftershaves, Royall Bay Rhum and Florida water. Even today, when I catch a whiff of one of them, I remember great adventures with my grandfather.
Napoleon Mark Bernier was born 22 Oct 1894 in Somerville, Middlesex Co., MA, to Francois Napoleon Bernier and Margaret Elizabeth DeCoste Bernier.
He was left-handed but the nuns at his school forced him to write with his right hand. As a result, he became a rebellious student and dropped out of school around sixth grade. He was self-taught after that, and I recall him practically devouring chemistry books as well as science fiction magazines.
Of course, he grew tired of working for his dad’s plaster-and-stucco contracting business. He started inventing his own kinds of specialized stuccos, and later became a noted inventor with several patents.
He started the California Stucco Corporation, then California Paints, and then combined them into California Products. The company still thrives, and its headquarters are in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
My grandfather was one of those larger-than-life people, and his friends were equally colorful, including General George S. Patton and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.
(I can recall playing at Gropius’ house in Lincoln when I was little. My grandfather had been involved in the building of it. My favorite parts included a banister that was great for sliding on, plus a wall of glass bricks that made the outside world look weird. My grandfather put similar glass bricks into the cottage he built for us in North Hampton, NH.)
My grandfather was tremendously successful in business and involved in building the original John Hancock Insurance building in Boston, MA, plus many other Back Bay structures. His work can still be seen throughout MIT, as well, especially in the lobby at the formal entrance (the one that faces the Charles River) where my grandfather’s invention — acoustical plaster and tiles — line the walls & ceiling and muffle loud noises.
Napoleon M. Bernier — often called “Nap” by his friends — died of a heart attack on 22 Nov 1959, at Mt. Auburn Hospital, Cambridge, MA. He and I were kind of “partners in crime,” and I still miss him.
Margaret Tormey Bernier and her daughter, Muriel, in 1919
This photo shows my grandmother, Margaret Ann Tormey Bernier (1898 – 1972) and her baby daughter, Muriel (1919 – 2010). The photo was probably taken on the front porch of their home in Cambridge… or Somerville, MA. (I need to research that and find out just where their street was actually located. Most records say Somerville, but my mother said it was actually Cambridge, and — for part of her high school years — she went to school in Cambridge.)
My mother was born at home, and — completely unprepared — my grandfather (Napoleon Mark Bernier) was present during labor and delivery. He was so shocked by the process, he swore there would be no more children in his household. And so, my mother was an only child. (From my grandmother’s description, it wasn’t an easy delivery.)
However, my grandmother’s pregnancy was stressful. She was one of the only members of her extended family who didn’t come down with the flu, so — despite being “in the family way” — she was the one who took care of those confined to their beds. And, her father-in-law (Francois Napoleon Bernier) died while my grandmother was pregnant.
As an only child, my mother said she was pampered and given the best of everything. Since her parents were so young when she was born, it was more as if they were friends than parents. So, my mother described her childhood as a happy one.
Her mother swore that my mother never did anything wrong, ever. She never misbehaved, and never had to be punished for anything.
I’m not so sure about that. Mum talked about running around the neighborhood with a bow & arrows, and… well, not quite terrorizing the kids, but I got the idea that Mum was more of a loner than a joiner.
I’m intrigued by the lace-up boots my grandmother wore in this photo. I had a pair custom-made when I was in my 20s, not realizing they were similar to my grandmother’s.
And, if I recall the stories correctly, this photo shows my grandmother with her real nose. The surgery was later, since my mother recalled seeing her mom in bandages, afterward.