Louise Bell Keyes, a magnet for young people of all ages at her church, died Oct. 19 at Woodbine Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center in Alexandria, 102 years and 23 days after she was born. She had diabetes.
"She has never ever been sick or hospitalized," said her daughter-in-law Primrose E. Knox. "She did have Type II diabetes. But she had no mental problems whatsoever, and there was never a time when she was incoherent. She had a beautiful life and death."
A stalwart presence at Meade Memorial Episcopal Church in downtown Alexandria for most of her life, Mrs. Keyes ran its Altar Guild for 50 years and was deeply involved in the church's activities, said its vicar, the Rev. Carla Thompson.
"She was highly regarded and much beloved and was engaged in every aspect of the church life," Thompson said. "She inspired a lot of young people and was very much a magnet for the young people of all ages in the church."
A native of Alexandria, Mrs. Keyes was born Sept. 26, 1903, and grew up in a segregated town, attending school until seventh grade. She moved with her mother to Harlem and at age 17 married Emanuel Knox. He died of pneumonia less than 20 years later, so she returned with her young son to the rowhouse on North Patrick Street where she was born. She married William A. Keyes in 1935, and they resided on nearby North Alfred Street. Her second husband died in 1973.
Mrs. Keyes raised her son, along with a cousin and a nephew when their families broke up, while working as a maid in private homes and as a laborer for the General Services Administration from 1942 to 1967.
"I've always worked," she told a Washington Post reporter in 1999, when she was 96 years old. "I wouldn't have stopped, but I had an operation. Listen, honey, you have to have money to live. We've always been taught to work for what you get."
She lived on her own in a one-bedroom apartment until just a year or two ago, when she entered a nursing home. She had taken trips to Hawaii and Jamaica.
Mrs. Keyes enjoyed socializing, dressing well and raising hydrangeas, roses and gardenias.
Survivors include her son, Bertelle Knox of Washington; two grandchildren; and two great-grandsons.