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District's oldest resident reflects on 109 years of living

By Charity Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2009; HE01

What are the ingredients that allow someone to live a long -- a very long -- life? Genes, of course, are key, gerontologists say, but Samuel C. Durso, interim director of the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology at Johns Hopkins, points to several other factors as part of the elixir of longevity: staying engaged socially through family, friends and religious or civic groups: exercising body and brain; and following a healthy lifestyle -- no smoking, no overeating, no excessive drinking. "It's the best fountain of youth we have" he says, "even for people who adopt those attributes later in life."

All of which may help explain why Eddye L. Williams now holds the record of oldest living Washingtonian, according to records kept by the D.C. Office on Aging. At 109 years old, Williams is mostly housebound these days, tended to by a daughter, eight grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren (with one more on the way).

But looking back, she firmly believes that the way she's lived her life since her birth on Jan. 4, 1900, has made all the difference. Sitting in bed, with granddaughter Darlene Williams, 51, great-granddaughter Tyshida Williams, 18, and great-great-granddaughter J'da Gaskins, 5 months, by her side, Williams recalled her full life working as a nurse at the Red Cross, faithfully going to church, cooking and sewing for family and friends, writing poetry and participating in the 1963 civil rights march on Washington. Here's how she sees it, in her own words:

"Well, you know, everybody's got a different story to tell. What works for me may not work for you. But I can tell you what I think and what I know.

"[Growing up] we were very close to God. You are taught to know right from wrong. You are taught to love people whether they love you or not. Don't try to see the fault more than you can see the good in that person. That's my foundation. [My father] and my mother, they wouldn't stand for us going to bed without saying prayers, eating our dinner together at the table, blessing all the food before we eat it. Love is what we were taught, love. So you ask what I think? My advice is, God is it."

So, home life played a huge part in your life?

"Our house was never bare. Our house was always full with somebody else's children. My father ministered and [would take] in somebody else's child, my mother [would take] care of somebody. Everybody that we knew, they were your parents. You couldn't do anything out there and think somebody didn't see you. Everybody was your parents. You don't find that nowadays.

"I loved my childhood."

What major events were you a part of?

"Martin, Martin Luther King! I was in the march. [She starts to sing.] 'We shall overcome. We shall overcome.'

"After he died, got killed, D.C. was on fire. They just started burning everything. They burned everything. It was bad. You couldn't get fresh air. The whole city was lit up. This white boy, he asked us, "Now who is Martin Luther King?" After the fire, he turns and asks, "Now who is he?" I hollered! [She laughs.] . . .

"Sometimes you can act hasty. You have to stop, think and act. That's what I say -- stop, think, act. That's what the young people need to know. So many jails . . . filled with our boys. 'I am somebody' is what Dr. King said."

What did you think when Obama won?

"I knew Obama was going to be the first [black] president. God has a plan."

When did you arrive in D.C.?

"I came to D.C., well, I lived in this house for 56 years. I love to travel, though. I'm a traveling missionary. I'm a traveling nurse. I love different nationalities. My father came from Barbados . . . . I think you can learn so much from foreigners. When you meet other races, you learn so much."

What do you think about aging?

"I got the best life in the world. My hair is full of gray but I'm still living. I feel good.

"I eat anything I want to eat. Beans, collard greens and cornbread, chicken, goat stew. Not too much pork or beef. You could kill yourself worrying too much, eating too much.

"I can dance, shout, clown and pray. It's how you take care of yourself. I have peace. Try to understand life and be satisfied with what you got. As long as you can trust that man upstairs, you don't have nothing to worry about."

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