Oldest living American, who just turned 116, reveals her secret to longevity

Stacy Jackman
·4 mins read

Hester Ford celebrated her 116th birthday — yes, 116th! — on Saturday, Aug. 15th. And while Ford didn’t have a blowout bash fitting for such a momentous occasion, due to the social distancing called for amidst the coronavirus pandemic, she did have countless friends, family and other well-wishers drive by her Charlotte, N.C., home — shouting, cheering and honking their car horns to acknowledge the incredible day.

Hester Ford in her youth, left, and today. (Photos courtesy of Mary Hill)
Hester Ford in her youth, left, and today. (Photos courtesy of Mary Hill)

Ford’s granddaughter, Mary Hill, tells Yahoo Life she believes that her “gran...gran” is testimony to the idea that, if you live biblically, guided by faith, God will take care of you. “She is just reaping the benefits of the seed that she’s already sown,” Hill says. “She taught us to live by faith, not by sight, and always know to help others.”

Indeed, the centenarian tells Yahoo Life (in a surprisingly strong voice), “I’m living for the Lord, hun.”

A cake for Hester Ford's birthday. (Photo courtesy of Mary Hill)
A cake for Hester Ford's birthday. (Photo courtesy of Mary Hill)

Ford has survived two world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic and now the worst days yet of the coronavirus pandemic — not to mention that she’s seen the ratification of the 19th amendment, the civil rights era and countless U.S. administration changes.

When she asks her grandmother what she remembers about the deadly influenza outbreak that took place over 100 years ago, Hill says she recalls, “a lot of people were sick and people had to help each other.”

There is, understandably, some confusion about Grandma Hester’s exact age. According to her family, one set of U.S. Census Bureau documents show Ford’s birthday as August 15, 1904. while another set indicates she was born in 1905. Hill says the family is acknowledging the 1904 birthdate, which still makes Ford the oldest living American. (The Guinness World Records lists Kane Tanaka, who is 117, as the oldest living person in the world.)

The more tradition birthday cake, for Hester Ford. (Photo courtesy of Mary Hill)
The more tradition birthday cake, for Hester Ford. (Photo courtesy of Mary Hill)

Ford was born on a farm in Lancaster County, S.C., where she picked cotton before later marrying her husband, John. He died over five decades ago, and Hester is the long-running matriarch of a huge family. “She had 12 children, 68 grands, 125 great grands,” Hill says. After that, Hill loses count of Ford’s great, great grandchildren who also number well over 100.

Ford lived alone in the same house in Charlotte until after her 100th birthday, when a fall led her daughters to move in to take care of her. Today, one of Ford’s primary caregivers is her 87-year-old daughter, Daisy, who is Hill’s mother and apparently sharp as a tack herself.

Hill says that her grandmother could still walk on the treadmill up until about four years ago, but that she’s now slowed down a bit and sticks to walking with assistance. “Her health is good,” Hill says. “She's a good eater.”

When asked what’s the best part about living this long Ford is candid: “I don't know. I want to go home, though, but the Lord ain’t ready for me.” Hill reiterates that it’s her grandmother’s strong Baptist faith that’s given her such longevity. “She says her scripture every day. She prays at 12 o’clock every day for our family and she says the 23rd Psalm, John 14 and the Lord’s Prayer every day.”

Hill goes on to say, “We are grateful. We are proud. We are elated, and we just thank God for her life, her love and everything that she means to us.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.