Former Checker Club owner celebrates his 100th birthday

Former Checker Club owner celebrates his 100th birthday

Raymond Mathieu is the former owner of the East Side Checker Club on Benefit Street, which he owned for 65 years before selling it and retiring at the age of 95. (Breeze photos by Melanie Thibeault)

PAWTUCKET – When Raymond Mathieu was born in Boston in 1919 during the influenza pandemic, the doctors predicted he wouldn’t survive. Last week, sitting in the living room of his home in Countryside, the Pawtucket resident said he never thought he would make it to 100.

“I came out looking like a muskrat. I wasn’t supposed to live. Here I am gonna be 100, I have no aches and pains,” Mathieu, who said he doesn’t take any medications, told The Breeze.

This Friday, March 15, Mathieu will be celebrating his 100th birthday in one of his favorite places: on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. After two weeks on “the best beaches in the world,” he’ll return home and celebrate again on March 30 at a party with 250 of his relatives and friends at the Attleboro Elks Lodge.

Mathieu has met plenty of people in his life, many from the decades he spent owning and working at the East Side Checker Club, located at 579 Benefit St. in Pawtucket.

He sold the restaurant, now called 579 Benefit Street Restaurant, when he was 95 years old. Up until then, he would still go to work and greet customers every day.

“I love my customers,” Mathieu said. “I had good customers.” He enjoyed singing for people’s birthdays and anniversaries and would “buy them a cocktail,” he said.

Today Mathieu lives with his companion of 25 years, Nancy McAdams, who is 20 years his junior. The two met through the Checker Club, where McAdams, a Providence native, said she and her family used to frequent.

The two have known each other for 45 years; they got together after Mathieu’s wife of 40 years died and McAdams’ husband died, she said.

Mathieu has two children, Raymond and Deborah, three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He was born to Frank and Jenny Mathieu and has one sister and one brother. After living briefly in Fall River, Mass., Mathieu moved with his family to Pawtucket as a 6-year-old.

He attended St. Cecilia School and then Kenyon Commercial School, a former business school that used to be on Exchange Street, he said, before serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.

In the late 1940s, Mathieu’s father bought the Checker Club, which had been a club on Central Avenue, and brought it to Benefit Street, turning it into a restaurant, he said.

Mathieu worked for a manufacturing company before quitting to join his father at the restaurant.

“It got so busy, I had to quit,” he said.

When he was in charge, Mathieu used to have a rule: patrons had to remove their hats or he wouldn’t serve them.

“Customers would come in and have their hat on. I’d go up to them and say, ‘You can’t eat with the hat on, you gotta take it off ‘ … That’s the way I was brought up,” he said. “That’s what I expected in my business. Nobody ever said nothing.”

He was also well-known for his chicken soup, which McAdams said he would deliver to people’s homes when they were sick.

“I gave away as much chicken soup as I sold,” Mathieu said.

“I had good help,” Mathieu said of his employees. “I had a lot of people that worked for me … I miss the people.”

While he’s no longer running the restaurant, Mathieu still loves traveling. He and McAdams have been all around the world together from Australia and New Zealand to Italy, Africa, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

The former businessman owns a 1968 yellow Cadillac convertible, though he can no longer drive it. “I got a chauffeur,” he said, referring to McAdams. The two are waiting for warmer weather to take it down to the beach.

Mathieu used to enjoy playing golf, but now his hobby is card games, including one called golf.

His secret to a long life? “A lot of salt,” he says.

Raymond Mathieu and Nancy McAdams, his companion of 25 years, in their home in Pawtucket. Mathieu and McAdams will be in Turks and Caicos to celebrate Mathieu’s 100th birthday on Friday, March 15.