Hester Ford, one of the oldest humans of all time and the oldest living person in the United States, died at her North Carolina home on Saturday. She numbered among just a handful of supercentenarians—people above the age of 110—to ever live, reports Théoden Janes for the Charlotte Observer.
According to the Gerontology Research Group (GRG), which maintains a list of “verified” supercentenarians, Ford was at least 115 years and 245 days old when she died. She may have been 115 or 116, depending on which of two conflicting U.S. Census records is accurate. One report lists her birth date as 1904, while another lists the year as 1905.
For their part, Ford’s family members have argued that she was actually born on August 15, 1904, making her 116, per Sharif Paget and Claudia Dominguez of CNN. Either way, the GRG affirms that Ford was likely the oldest living person in the U.S. (Currently, the oldest person in the world is 118-year-old Kane Tanaka, who lives in Fukuoka, Japan.)
Ford lived out her final years following a simple routine. As the Associated Press (AP) reports, she ate a daily breakfast that included half a banana, took trips outside for fresh air, completed puzzles, watched family home videos and listened to gospel music.
“She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all,” says Ford’s great-granddaughter, Tanisha Patterson-Powe, in a statement posted on Facebook. “She was the seed that sprouted leaves and branches which is now our family. God saw fit to make her the matriarch of our family and blessed us to be her caretakers and recipients of her legacy.”
Ford was born and grew up on a farm in South Carolina, where she plowed and picked cotton for a living. She married at 14 years old, taking care of the home and 12 children while her husband, John, worked at a local steel mill. The couple later moved closer to Charlotte, North Carolina, per the AP.
John died in 1963 at the age of 57; ultimately, Ford outlived her late husband two times over. She resided in her Charlotte home without assistance until, at the age of 108, she fell and bruised a rib in the bathtub. After the fall, various family members moved into Ford’s home to help care for her in her final years.
According to the Observer, Ford’s many descendants included 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren and at least 120 great-great grandchildren.
During her remarkably long life, she witnessed two World Wars, the Great Depression and the terms of 21 U.S. presidents. She was also one of the few people to live through the two worst pandemics in modern history: the 1918 influenza outbreak and the Covid-19 pandemic. Ford celebrated her last birthday in August amid the coronavirus lockdown.
A Black American living in the South, Ford also witnessed the era of Jim Crow legislation, the transformational civil rights movement of the 1960s and the Black Lives Matter movements of this decade.
“[Ford] not only represented the advancement of our family but of the Black African American race and culture in our country,” says Patterson-Powe in her statement. “She was a reminder of how far we have come as people on this earth.”