But some said that some things have changed for the worse — such as the crime rate.
“People weren’t at liberty to turn loose and do what you wanted to do,” said Rayfield Griffin, 102, a former cabdriver and building engineer for National Geographic who attended with his grandson. “They had laws. Now, regardless of the law, they go out and do what they want to do. They respected it more back then.”
Many of the centenarians credited faith in God for their longevity, but they had other tips as well. “Don’t ever give up a project you’re working on,” said Griffin, who has a neatly trimmed mustache and sideburns and who did home repairs until he fell off a ladder a couple of years ago. “I like to do little things around the house that need done.”
Some recalled a world now vanished and the rise of a new one. “I saw the State Department built, and the Kennedy Center,” said Mary Parsons, a 103-year-old with soft white curls who attended with her niece. “We used to go down to the Lincoln Memorial and sit on the steps and listen to the National Symphony play; they were on a barge.”
Parsons lived in Foggy Bottom when it was a warren of dilapidated rowhouses that she recalled as run-down but friendly and safe. “We would come home at 11 at night, and all these people would be sitting on their porches and on the steps, and they’d call to us,” she said. “They were so kind, nobody ever tried to hurt us. It was a nice place to live.”
Alyce Dixon, 105, moved to the District from Boston in 1924 and was one of the first women to join the military as a WAC, or member of the Women’s Army Corps, where she wrote for the in-house newspaper about the doings of women in the military.
“I wrote a column called Wacky Chatter,” she said. “All the naughty things they did, I told, but I told it nice.”
Dixon was married for 13 years but split with her husband after he tried to stop her from sending money to her family. She got a job for $25 an hour and continued to help them. The secret to longevity, she said, is: “Giving and sharing. Money in the bank, you can’t take it with you. Share it. There’s a lot of need.”
When you die, she noted, “Uncle Sam’s going to spend it.”