At 108, 'It's a Beautiful Life'

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 5, 2008

Eddye L. Williams doesn't hold her tongue.

Why should she? She's 108, and by that time, you've certainly earned the right to say whatever you want.

Believed to be the District's oldest resident, she was being honored yesterday by family, friends and city officials in her Northeast home.

Her longevity comes from knowing what she likes to do, then doing it, she said during her birthday party.

So she's spent her life eating what she wants, dancing when she feels like it -- despite her bad knee -- and enjoying people.

She also taught Sunday school and never smoked or drank alcohol.

The secret is simple, she said.

"I tend to my own business. I was too busy trying to make it in life. I didn't have time to look at" others.

"It's a beautiful life. You made it that way," she said, pointing to the 20 family members, friends, reporters and photographers crammed in the upstairs bedroom. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) and D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) were among those who paid their respects.

Williams, who has lost some of her hearing, made her pronouncements while reclining on three big pillows on her bed.

"Happy Birthday" glimmered in royal blue letters on a tiara on her head. She wore a navy blue dress, gold hoop earrings and a cross around her neck. Her nails were painted bright red.

Fenty proclaimed Jan. 4, 2008, her day. "To live a fruitful life is a blessing," he said. Thomas congratulated her "for living a long life and living every day to the fullest."

Williams was thrilled. Cameras clicked as the mayor and Thomas kissed her. She took a bite out of her birthday cake. "That's good cake," she said.

In 2000, the year she turned 100, the District counted 160 centenarians among its residents, according to the U.S. Census.

When Williams was born, only 1 in 100,000 lived to see the century mark. Now one in 10,000 can expect to celebrate a 100th birthday, according to gerontology studies.

Williams, who was born in Florida, was a nurse for 53 years. She also sewed and decorated hats until she was 89.

A member of Metropolitan AME Zion Church, she emphasized the importance of her religious faith. Besides teaching Sunday school, she participated in the nurses' ministry and was active on the missionary board. She scolded parents for not teaching their children how to pray and said that's the only way to save troubled youths.

"If I can't talk to you about God, then don't come to my house," Williams said.

Janice Simmons, a step-granddaughter, said Williams still occasionally writes plays and poetry for her church.

"She's very energetic," Simmons said. "She always exercised. And she takes a teaspoonful of olive oil every day."

Williams has one daughter, Edythe Williams-Simmons, as well as eight grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.

She drew much laughter during the gathering.

"The doctor told me, 'Don't eat no pork.' I don't pay no attention to what the doctor tells me. If my stomach calls for chitterlings, I eat chitterlings."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company