At age 114, here’s her advice: ‘Speak your mind and don’t hold your tongue’

At age 114, here’s her advice: ‘Speak your mind and don’t hold your tongue’

Francis is believed to be the second oldest living supercentenarian in the United States, and the seventh oldest living person in the world

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Washington Post

Washington Post

Cathy Free, The Washington Post

Published Aug 20, 2023  •  4 minute read

Elizabeth Francis, center, with family members and friends on her 114th birthday in Houston on July 25. Her daughter, Dorothy Williams, 94, is holding her hand, and granddaughter Ethel Harrison is at left. MUST CREDIT: Emmanuel Rodriguez
Elizabeth Francis, center, with family members and friends on her 114th birthday in Houston on July 25. Her daughter, Dorothy Williams, 94, is holding her hand, and granddaughter Ethel Harrison is at left. MUST CREDIT: Emmanuel Rodriguez Photo by Emmanuel Rodriguez /Handout

Not many 94-year-olds still have their mothers around, but Dorothy Williams does – and the two women live together in Houston.

Her mother, Elizabeth Francis, just turned 114.

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“I guess I would have to say the Lord has blessed me in my young age,” joked Francis, whose birthday was July 25.

Francis’s granddaughter, Ethel Harrison, 68, threw her a party, which included a vanilla and chocolate sheet cake, dozens of her grandmother’s favourite flowers and a plaque confirming her as the oldest Texan.

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“I’m very grateful to be here, and I hope to live to celebrate my 115th birthday next year,” she said.

Harrison said Francis is believed to be the second oldest living supercentenarian in the country, and the seventh oldest living person in the world. A supercentenarian is someone who lives to be 110 years old or older.

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Edie Ceccarelli, 115, beats Francis for the title in the United States, and Maria Branyas Morera tops the world charts at age 116, according to several groups that track the oldest living people, including the Gerontology Research Group.

Being a supercentenarian is an exclusive club to which Francis said she never anticipated she would belong.

“I’ve been handling the parties every year since my grandmother surprised everyone by turning 106,” Harrison said.

Elizabeth Francis was born in Louisiana in 1909. It was so long ago, she said she doesn’t remember the name of the town where she was born. Her mother died when she was a girl, and she and her five siblings were sent to different homes. Francis went to Houston, where she was raised by an aunt.

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“But for years, her oldest sister lived right next door — she made it to age 106,” Harrison said. “They were extremely close for many years.”

Francis, a single mother, supported herself and Williams by running a coffee shop at ABC 13 News in Houston for about 20 years until her retirement in 1975, Harrison said.

“She never learned to drive, so she took the bus to work or people in the family would give her a ride,” Harrison said. “She also did a lot of walking, so maybe that explains some of her longevity.”

“Her life was always pretty simple: early to bed, early to rise, work hard, then come home and make a nutritious meal and be with family,” Harrison added.

Francis was known for her chicken and dumplings, she said, and she took delight in raising her own vegetables, especially collard greens.

“She was always focused on family more than anything else,” Harrison said, adding that her grandmother has three grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and four great-great-grandchildren.

Harrison is one of several care providers who help to look after her mother and grandmother.

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“She has only one pet peeve that I know of,” Harrison said. “When we first moved her and my mom into this house, she would not put her clothes in the dryer. She wanted a clothesline out back. Until she lost her mobility, that’s always how she dried her clothes.”

The pair have lived in the house since 1999, she said, and for the past six years, her grandmother has needed a wheelchair to get around. She now holds court from her bed when visitors drop by, Harrison said, adding that family members have nicknamed her “Queen Elizabeth of Houston.”

Francis has joked that eating whatever she wants is the secret to a long life, but there are other possible reasons that some people become supercentenarians, said Ben Meyers, the chief executive of LongeviQuest, an organization that tracks the oldest people in the world.

“What they all have in common is a healthy relationship with stress,” Meyers said.

His organization has verified 35 supercentenarians alive in the United States, far fewer than the number of centenarians, which is about 90,000, he said.

“They’ve reached a stage where everyone born when they were is now gone, but they’re able to cope and persevere by focusing on the positive,” he said.

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Meyers flew from Boca Raton, Fla., to Houston for Francis’s 114th birthday bash because he has enjoyed following her story over the past several years and wanted to celebrate with her in person, he said.

“She never aimed to become a celebrity, but now she’s exactly that because of her age,” Meyers said, noting that for years now, Francis has made headlines every time she has had a birthday.

Meyers said he was impressed by Francis’s quick wit.

“I asked for her advice, and she said, ‘Speak your mind and don’t hold your tongue,’” he said. “She also told me, ‘If the Lord gave it to you, use it.’”

“That’s something we could all take to heart,” Meyers said.

On Francis’s birthday, Harrison said there was a steady stream of relatives, neighbors and friends from her grandmother’s church who showed up for a catered meal of pasta with Italian sausage, salad and big slices of birthday cake.

“I called the same caterer I used last year, and when I told her we were about to celebrate my grandmother’s 114th, she said, ‘Seriously?’” Harrison said. “Like a lot of people, she was shocked.”

“We feel blessed every day to still have her with us,” she added.

Francis said that it is an honour to have seen so many decades.

“I’m the oldest living person in Houston, and I’d like to thank God and all of the people who have surrounded me and loved me throughout my life,” she said. “They helped to get me here.”

As for her next birthday, she said it’s never too early to start planning the party.

She’ll have two pieces of birthday cake, she said. “Just like I did at my 114th.”

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