A life well lived: Longtime Nashua resident, Myrtle Latvis, remembered
Some years ago on Lake Street, just up from the old Lake Street firehouse and not far from the intersection of Lake and Pine streets, a suspected drunk driver crashed his car into a stone wall in front of the longtime home of an 80-ish widow still active in her chosen profession as a nurse.
Veteran Nashua police Lt. Kerry Baxter was a patrol officer at the time. It happened to be a New Years Eve, and Baxter, still fairly new to the force, was on duty, assigned to a sector of the city that included the Lake Street area.
Investigating the crash included interviewing the homeowner, and when Baxter knocked on the door the kindly widow invited her in. The two spoke for a few moments. Then Baxter happened to glance at a framed portrait on the wall.
“I stopped in my tracks,” Baxter told me the other day. She recognized in an instant the man in the portrait; she’d seen the portrait before, more than a few times, in different places, perhaps in different sizes.
“He’s one of our fallen officers,” Baxter remembers thinking.
He was also the late husband of the nice widow who invited Baxter in, for what was supposed to be a brief interview about what she may have seen or heard when the car struck her stone wall.
Myrtle Latvis was quite pleased, and even more proud, that such a young police officer recognized her husband, Michael Latvis, himself a Nashua police officer, but whose life and career were cut tragically short three days before Christmas 1956.
The chance meeting sparked a close friendship that endured for years, for quite a few years, actually, because Myrtle Latvis lived 103 years and three months until her quiet, comfortable passing on Christmas Eve – 62 years to the day after she buried her beloved husband at Nashua’s Edgewood Cemetery.
Patrolman Michael Latvis, a native Nashuan born to Lithuanian immigrants and a Nashua police officer of four years, was fatally injured Dec. 21, 1956, when the police ambulance in which he was a passenger was struck by a car at West Pearl and Chestnut streets.
Latvis died the next day at a Boston hospital, where, the Nashua Telegraph reported, “physicians waged a 22-hour battle to save his life.” Thrown from the ambulance when it spun around and slammed into a utility pole, Latvis suffered a fractured skull. He was a month shy of his 39th birthday.
The future cop was working at the former Nashua Memorial Hospital – now Southern New Hampshire Medical Center – when he met Myrtle Jauron, a full time nurse.
They married in the late 1930s, and had two sons – Michael, a retired Exeter High School teacher and administrator who lives in Stratham with his wife, Gail, and David Latvis, who was 67 when he died in 2012 after a battle with cancer.
Latvis’s surviving son recalls being at a friend’s house that Friday evening, as Christmas shoppers – his mom, Myrtle, included – were out looking for a couple of last-minute gifts.
An aunt, Mike Latvis said, called his friend’s house and told him to put his coat on because a cab was on the way to pick him up.
“When I got home they told me what happened,” Latvis recalled. Relatives hurried him to Memorial Hospital – now Southern New Hampshire Medical Center – where he joined his mom.
The family kept vigil until informed their husband and father would be transferred to Boston for specialized treatment. They followed, resuming the vigil at that hospital.
As devastating a blow as was the sudden loss of her husband – “from then on the holidays were really tough for her,” her son recalls – Myrtle Latvis, all 4 foot, 9 inches of her, summoned the perseverence to continue raising their boys, ages 16 and 12 at the time, while still working fulltime as a nurse, by then for the late Nashua physician Dr. Frank Flagg.
It’s that same perseverence that kept Myrtle Latvis going strong as she approached, then passed, the century mark, her son and Baxter agree.
“Every year, she was always there,” Baxter said, referring to the New Hampshire Law Enforcement Memorial Association’s annual May remembrance ceremony in Concord.
Baxter, a member at the time of the Nashua department’s honor guard, said she felt it was an honor to escort her longtime friend forward for the symbolic wreath ceremony in which fallen officers’ families take part each year.
But starting in 1996, Myrtle Latvis only had to go a couple of miles to pay tribute to her husband. That’s when the Nashua Police Department unveiled its own memorial, honoring Latvis and the three other officers who died in the line of duty.
“I think it’s a very lovely thing that they’re doing,” the sprightly widow told a Telegraph reporter at that 1996 unveiling.
Sprightly is right – Myrtle Latvis attended the state and Nashua ceremonies until she was 101.
She was well into her 90s when it came time for her to move to an assisted living community. She chose Kirkwood Corners in Lee, just a couple towns over from her son and daughter-in-law’s home in Stratham.
Ever the compassionate nurse, Myrtle Latvis often visited her fellow residents, popping by just to say hi or see if they’re doing OK. It wasn’t unusual, her son said, for her to sit, sometimes for hours, with a resident, encouraging the sick and providing comfort for those nearing the end of their lives.
“Here she was, 100, 101 years old, ministering to people 10, maybe 20 years younger,” her son said with a smile.
Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Sundays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-1256, firstname.lastname@example.org or@Telegraph_DeanS.