“One of the more bizarre, tragic, and poetic stories that I have heard in my time.”
That’s how Nate Haley described in a Facebook post the deaths of his grandmother and her twin sister, who over the weekend left the world exactly as they came into it: together.
Jean Haley and Martha Williams, both 97, died after falling near each other in the driveway and garage of Haley’s house in Barrington, R.I., on Friday evening, police said. Both women spent the night outside in below-freezing temperatures before a neighbor found them. Authorities believe the cause of death was hypothermia, The Washington Post reported Sunday.
As the story of the two sisters went viral early this week, relatives, friends and acquaintances remembered Haley and Williams as witty and vivacious, and perhaps more than anything, inseparable throughout their long lives.
“These two women are the epitome of the ‘right way’ to live your life,” Haley’s grandson wrote on Facebook. “They made everyone that they met feel special, and truly connected with those that were lucky enough to have the courses of their lives intersect.”
“They spent almost 10 decades together,” Haley’s neighbor, Peter May, told the Boston Globe. “They were born on the same day and they died on the same day. It’s a beautiful story of sisterhood.”
Williams’s 67-year-old daughter, Sue Williams, called them “the girls.” She described them as warm and loving, the daughters of well-traveled and adventurous parents, who devoted their lives to their families.
“They made it so none of us feel we left something unsaid,” Sue Williams told the Globe. “And that is unbelievable, because we all leave things — ‘I wish I had said this, I wish I could do one more hug. I wish. I wish. I wish.’ ”
At 97, the twins were still active and independent. They lived only a few miles from each other, and several times a week they went out to eat at their favorite restaurants, usually with their younger sister, 89-year-old Mary Jacobs.
That was the case Friday, when the twins and Jacobs dined at the Lobster Pot, a seafood restaurant on the harbor in Bristol, R.I., about a 15-minute drive from Haley’s house, according to the Globe.
Dining out had become a tradition over the years for the sisters, who were popular in town and friendly with restaurant staff. They enjoyed the company, friends and relatives recalled, and were known to indulge in the occasional cocktail (Nate Haley said they’d earned the nickname “the Martini girls” — “vodka martini, straight up, with twist of lemon, and just a dash of vermouth”).
“They were sweet, wonderful ladies” Jeff Guertler, owner of Redlefsen’s Rotisserie, told the Providence Journal. “Really, really smart, with it, and really funny.”
After they finished dinner Friday, Haley drove the trio back to her house, about 8:30 p.m., according to the Journal. By that time, temperatures were falling into the teens, with wind chills in the single digits. It’s unclear exactly what happened next, but the Journal’s Tom Mooney put together a narrative of the moments that followed, based on input from Barrington Police Chief John M. LaCross:
The youngest sister told investigators that Jean had slowed to a stop in front of her house to let her out beside her parked car. Mary Jacobs slipped into the driver’s seat and drove off as Jean made the slow turn into her driveway.
LaCross says investigators suspect Jean Haley might have stopped a second time, in the driveway, to let Martha Williams out beside her parked car.
There, in the dark and bitter cold, investigators now believe 97-year-old Williams fell.
Jean Haley usually pulled into her garage, leaving enough room in front so she could walk, leaning on a hand rail for support that ran along the deepest wall. The railing led into the house.
But when police rushed to the house Saturday morning, they found Jean Haley’s car driven all the way in, as if hurriedly, the car’s nose almost touching the interior wall. She would have had to walk behind the car to get into the house, LaCross says.
Both Jean and Martha used a cane or walker, LaCross says. Investigators believe Jean Haley saw that her twin sister had fallen and in her effort to get inside the house to call for help, she fell, too, possibly tripping on a rug.
It wasn’t until just after 8 a.m., almost 12 hours later, that a neighbor discovered the sisters and called 911. Haley and Williams were pronounced dead at Rhode Island Hospital.
Haley’s son John Haley told the Globe he asked hospital workers to keep the twins near each other. It gave him a sense of relief, he said.
“I just got this incredible feeling,” he said. “Everything is going to be OK because they’re still together.”
Indeed, their last day seems to have showcased their vibrant relationship and infectious spirit.
“They had one last Friday night out, enjoyed dinner, the company of others, and most importantly, each other,” Nate Haley said. “This is truly the end of an era, an era that spanned 97 amazing years, and only God knows how many amazing memories.”
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