On Monday in person on the third-floor auditorium of the Essex Town Hall, 99-year-old resident Bonnie Jean Malcolm-Brown was honored as the town’s eldest resident. As tradition calls, she was presented with the 14-carat gold and mahogany Boston Post Cane.
Dawn Burnham of the Essex Council on Aging presented Malcom-Brown with the cane before the Board of Selectmen to Malcolm-Brown, born in 1922 to a fourth-generation family in Oakland, California. A lifelong artist, Bonnie started as a child to compete in adult juried art shows and then studied art and teaching at University of California at Berkeley, California State College, Long Beach, receiving a master’s degree from University of Southern California in 1958. All this, while raising four daughters and working.
Widowed 10 years after the birth of her last daughter, forming a bond that drew Bonnie to follow her daughter to Essex in 1996. Bonnie still avidly pursues her art and is in two upcoming shows—Abstract Art Group of New England’s show at Newburyport Art Assoc. in July, and Maudslay Outdoor Sculpture show in Newburyport. Her works are in private and public collections in U.S, Spain, India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, China and Italy.
The Boston Post Cane is presented to the eldest resident, male or female, in town. Burnham explained the tradition began in 1909, when the publisher of the Boston Post newspaper (thus “Boston Post Cane”) commissioned 700 fine ebony canes to be made with a two-inch, 14-carat gold head, decorated by hand.
Canes were distributed to small towns throughout New England, and many have been lost over the years as they have been presented, with surviving families unfamiliar with the tradition and unaware that the cane is passed on to the next eldest resident. Today, there are only 460 canes in circulation. In Essex, the cane resides with the Essex Historical Society.
But for one week, it will reside with Bonnie Jean Malcom-Brown.