By Nance Ebert, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – For nonagenarian Robert Lavallee of Marlborough, the secret to longevity and good health is just that a secret.
Doctors at Brigham and Women's Hospital are eager to learn the secret to Lavallee's good health and asked him to volunteer for studies on aging. He will turn 97 in the fall.
“They say I have a 50-year-old body, heart, etc.,” he said. “I am still in terrific shape and have 20/20 vision.”
Part of his youthfulness seems to stem from staying active.
“I still drive which enables me to keep my independence. I do a lot of things that I enjoy, like exercise and I use my muscles,” Lavallee said.
He recently went skiing with his son, David, at Ski Ward.
“I was thrilled to learn that I could still engage in a sport that I loved,” he said.
The doctors studying him at Brigham and Women's were not as thrilled. “[They] were not too pleased to learn of my recent activities for fear of getting injured,” he noted.
As a volunteer in the studies, Lavallee receives a wealth of information that he, too, benefits from. He has been volunteering for these over the last couple of years and has become friendly with the physicians and researchers involved. He also benefits from participating, as he gets out for the day, engages with those involved in the studies, and learns more about his health through the results.
Lavallee's grandfather came over from Ireland in 1916 and settled in Marlborough. He was a horse trainer, and during the summers, Lavallee would venture with him to the homes of wealthy families living in New York on Long Island and help out with the horses. Many of these family members encouraged him to become a veterinarian.
Instead, after graduating from Marlborough High School, he attended the Wentworth Institute of Technology, where he studied mechanical engineering. He worked for 40 years as the unit manager of assembly at General Electric, but his fondness for horses never faded.
He was married to his wife, Eleanor, for 78 years before she passed away in 2010. He and Eleanor bought Greenridge Farm, Lavallee's current home, in the mid-1960s, and raised horses and turkeys along with their four children. They always had horses and Lavallee rode every day.
“We bought this whole street for $7,000 from the prominent Dinsmore family,” he recalled. “Their daughter worked for the Rockefellers in New York and their son graduated from Harvard and wrote a book titled “The Country Doctor.”” He also remembered Henry and Mrs. Ford taking over The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, where they ran a school for disadvantaged boys.
Although recently he had to put his last horse down as she was 30 years old, Lavallee still raises turkeys with the help of his son David, who lives with him. His 12 grandchildren also keep him active.
“Most importantly, I take a very good interest in life,” he said.