Hester Ford, believed to be the oldest American woman and lived long enough to see two pandemics, both world wars, discrimination against Jim Crow, civil rights movements and the election of 21 presidents, died on Saturday at her Charlotte home, NC.
Census records show conflicting information for her year of birth, but she was either 115 or 116 years old. The Gerontology Research Group, which records supercenturies or people over 110 years of age, has put their ages at 115 years and 245 days.
Her family issued a statement confirming her death.
"She was a pillar and steadfast to our family and provided all of us with much-needed love, support and understanding," her great-granddaughter Tanisha Patterson-Powe said in the statement.
Ms. Ford is believed to be born on August 15, 1905 or 1904 on a farm in Lancaster County, S.C., where she grew up tilling the soil and picking cotton. Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time.
She married John Ford at the age of 14 and gave birth to the first of their 12 children at the age of 15.
The couple moved to Charlotte around 1960 and Mrs. Ford began working as a nanny. Mr Ford died three years later at the age of 57. Ms. Ford lived independently in her home until she was 108. Her family members insisted on helping her after she fell into her bathtub and injured her ribs.
Her eight daughters and four sons gave her 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren and at least 120 great-great-grandchildren.
"She represented not only the advancement of our family, but also the black African American race and culture in our country," said Ms. Patterson-Powe. "It was a reminder of how far we have come as humans on this earth."
Ms. Ford celebrated her last birthday last year during the coronavirus pandemic with a socially distant drive-by parade of friends and family members honking their horns and waving from the street.
When asked what gifts she wanted, Ms. Ford told WBTV in Charlotte, "Anything anyone will give me."
The Gerontology Research Group lists the world's oldest living person as Kane Tanaka in Japan. She is 118 years and 114 days old. The next oldest American is Thelma Sutcliffe, who is 114 years and 207 days old and lives in Nebraska.
Ms. Ford's family said their daily routine included breakfast, which always included half a banana, a trip outside for some fresh air – when the weather permits – and sit in her armchair and look at family albums, do puzzles and listen to gospel music.
When asked about the secret of her longevity, she told The Charlotte Observer, "I just live right, all I know."
The Associated Press contributed to the coverage.