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West Hartford Resident Has Inspirational 90th Birthday Celebration

Barbara posing with her children, Jody Ashley and Stacie Zibel, granddaughters Taylor and Whitney Ashley, and son-in-law Eric Ashley. Submitted photo
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After overcoming many health setbacks, a West Hartford woman and Elmwood Senior Center member celebrated her 90th birthday among friends.

Barbara posing with her children, Jody Ashley and Stacie Zibel, granddaughters Taylor and Whitney Ashley, and son-in-law Eric Ashley. Submitted photo

Barbara posing with her children, Jody Ashley and Stacie Zibel, granddaughters Taylor and Whitney Ashley, and son-in-law Eric Ashley. Submitted photo

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On May 27, Barbara Portman’s friends and family gathered for her 90th birthday celebration with a light lunch at Elmwood Senior Center. In attendance were her daughter, grandchildren and many friends. The ambience was set by music from her long-time friend, pianist David Eberly.

Her daughter Jody Portman Ashley wrote the following reflection entitled “Finding Her Voice After Cancer” to her mother as a tribute to her ninth decade:

For as long as I can remember, music has played a major role in my mom’s life. As I child, I remember her telling me stories about her childhood, with her fondest memories surrounded by her sister, Rae, playing the piano, and various friends and family singing. Music, in fact, was one of the few sweet memories my mom had as a child. When my mom was 4, her mother died suddenly of appendicitis. Her sister, Bea, the oldest of four, soon became head of household at the age of about 14.

Barbara singing alongside pianist and longtime friend, David Eberly. Submitted photo

Barbara singing alongside pianist and longtime friend, David Eberly. Submitted photo

Growing up, my memories of my mother were trying to teach me to sing “on key.” I shared her passion of music and singing, but unfortunately did not share her talent! My mother, throughout the years, re-wrote the words to popular songs in honor of a special occasion. For example, at my wedding, my mother wrote and sang the song “Parents who Children” to the tune of Barbara Streisand’s famous song “People who need People.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

As much as my mom loved music and singing, I never remember her singing publicly. In fact, my mother was very reserved, gladly taking “back stage” to my dad; allowing him the limelight in every situation. My father, William (Bill) Portman, was extremely outgoing, and my mom was just proud to be his wife.

Birthday girl, Barbara Portman, inspirational at 90 years young! Submitted photo

Birthday girl, Barbara Portman, inspirational at 90 years young! Submitted photo

About 13 years ago, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. The treatments were aggressive and the prognosis was grim. Since then I know she has had a reoccurrence … maybe even more than one, but honestly, I can’t remember how long ago it was. I only know now she is about five years in remission … or more!

You would think I would remember such important dates. But, I believe the reason why I don’t, is throughout the hell (excuse my word), my mother never lost interest or focus on her children and grandchildren … and now her three great-grandchildren. In fact, she portrayed it as a “nuisance” rather than a life threatening disease.

I believe this was part of my mother’s journey. In the last five or six years, she has found her voice. At the age of 90 (May 16), my mother finds joy in singing weekly at the Elmwood Senior Center. Weekly she heads up karaoke, dragging her CD’s faithfully … now on top of her walker! She also enjoys singing along with David Eberly, and her friend Natalie. And so, it only seems only appropriate that on her 90th birthday, she gets to sing along with David Eberly, surrounded by family and friends.  

In addition, this once quiet woman has spoken publicly at a luncheon for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. My mom was also a model (in front of over 300 people) – in her 80s – for the Models of Hope Fashion Show, a fashion show put on by the American Cancer Society where all the models were cancer survivors. She was indeed the oldest one, and thankfully, the longest survivor of this horrid disease.

In addition to this, my mother holds daily chair exercise classes where she lives in Canterbury Apartments in West Hartford. Over the years, she has been an avid scrabble player, and a friend to so many. She has not only been a mom to me, but she is a role model in every sense of the word, as a mother, a friend, and a survivor.

So, if you don’t know Barbara Portman … you do now!” – Jody Portman Ashley, 2016

Elmwood Senior Center Director, Kathleen Faroni remarked, “Every birthday, every day, is worth celebrating! Elmwood Senior Center staff and friends were honored to be amongst those whose lives have been touched by this remarkable woman, Barbara Portman.”

Elmwood Senior Center is one of two Town of West Hartford senior centers, and their motto is “Experience the Energy.” Throughout the year, Elmwood Senior Center hosts a variety of ways for seniors to get involved in experiences, including trips, classes and special events that are seasonal, entertaining, informative, and always FUN!

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