Hester Ford, a Black woman who was the oldest person in America passed away peacefully on Saturday in her home, according to family members.
At the time of passing, Ford was either 115 or 116 years old making her a “super-centenarian,” and among the top 10 oldest people in the world, according to a report from the Gerontology Research Group.
The National Library of Medicine defines super-centenarians as people aged 110 years or older. Currently, there are 20 living and documented super-centenarians from across the globe. Kane Tanaka, from Japan, is the oldest living person on the planet at 118 years old.
Ford, who was the matriarch of an extensive family, had 12 children, 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren and approximately 120 great-great-grandchildren.
“She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all,” a statement from her family reads, according to WCNC Charlotte. “She was the seed that sprouted leaves and branches which is now our family. God saw fit to make her the matriarch of your family and blessed us to be her caretakers and recipients of her legacy.”
“It’s a sad day but it’s also a great day in heaven,” Ford’s great-granddaughter Tanisha Patterson-Powe said. “Although we’re saddened by it, we take great pride in the legacy that she does leave behind.”
Ford hails from a farm in Lancaster County, South Carolina where she was born on Aug. 15, 1905, or perhaps 1904, depending on which census report is accurate. According to her family, one set of U.S. Census Bureau documents suggest she was born in 1905, but then another says she was born in 1904, the Charlotte Observer reported.
Growing up Ford plowed and picked cotton in the Dalebrook neighborhood that she was born in and by age 14 she was married. One year later, she had a child with John Ford, her late husband who worked at a local steel mill and passed away at age 57 in 1963.
During her lifetime, Ford was able to witness major historical moments, such as WWI and the 1918 influenza pandemic, when she was either 13 or 14 years old.
Regardless of what year she was born, however, Ford became the oldest living American in November 2019 when a 114-year-old woman from New York passed away.
“The reality is, Hester Ford’s age, even at 115, still made her the last known American born before 1906,” Robert D. Young, director of GRG’s supercentenarian research and database division said in an email, according to the Charlotte Observer. “When you consider that she was a mother of a WWII-era veteran … it really puts into perspective: This was one of our last living links to an era that is nearly bygone.”
Ford also lived through WWII and the Civil Rights movement, among a myriad of other historical events.
“In times that were troublesome, when there were so many injustices taking place, it was her faith that kept her moving,” Patterson-Powe said.
Toward the end of her life, Ford kept herself afloat with “little exercises” in her reclining chair, games like Go Fish and a breakfast that consisted of grits, pancakes or waffles and specifically, a half a banana.
“After breakfast, we take her outside for (fresh air) — weather permitting. Then she has certain little games she likes, like the Go Fish game, where she has to catch the fish and pull it out,” her granddaughter, Mary Hill, said in a phone interview with the Charlotte Observer last summer. “She has an Etch-a-Sketch where she writes her name. And we sing, we do puzzles together, we look at the family album. And the best thing she loves to do is get in her recliner and watch her family on (home videos) and watch and listen to gospel singing.”
In that same phone interview, Ford revealed the secret to her longevity.
“I just live right, all I know,” she said with confidence.
“Her light shined beyond her local area and she lived beyond a century with memories containing real life experience of over 100 years,” Patterson-Powe said in a statement, according to The Charlotte Observer. “She not only represented the advancement of our family but of the Black African American race and culture in our country. She was a reminder of how far we have come as people on this earth.”
When speaking about her grandmother last summer, Hill added how appreciative she is for her elderly grandmother’s presence.
“I’m just so grateful. Just so grateful,” she said.