‘A pillar and stalwart’: Hester Ford, the oldest person in US, dies at 115 (or maybe 116)

A North Carolina woman who lived through the Spanish flu, World Wars I and II and the civil rights movement died Sunday, according to her family.

Hester Ford was either 115 or 116. Her family said U.S. Census Bureau documents suggest she was born in 1905, but another set of Census Bureau documents point to 1904, CBS reported. At either 115 or 116, Ford was the oldest person on record from the United States as of July 30, according to data compiled by the Gerontology Research Group.

Ford was born on a farm in Lancaster County, South Carolina. She grew up picking cotton and married her husband John at 14. They moved to Charlotte in 1960, where her husband died three years later and where Ford lived for the rest of her life.

“She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all,” said her great-granddaughter, Tanisha Patterson-Powe, in a statement emailed to the Charlotte Observer.

Ford lived at home on her own, without assistance, until the age of 108, when she bruised her ribs in a bathtub fall. Family members then moved into her home to assist the supercentenarian.

This Aug. 13, 2016, file photo shows Roosevelt Patterson greeting his grandmother Hester "Granny" Ford during Ford's 111th birthday party (Photo: Diedra Laird, The Charlotte Observer via AP)

In addition to her 12 children, Ford had 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren and at least 120 great-great-grandchildren.

“She not only represented the advancement of our family but of the Black African American race and culture in our country. She was a reminder of how far we have come as people on this earth,” Patterson-Powe said.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, relatives and friends drove by Ford’s house in North Carolina to celebrate her birthday in August, leaving presents on the driveway.

“I just live right, all I know,” she told her granddaughter at the time.

The oldest person in the world is 117-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan.

The longest a human has ever lived is 122 years. Jeanne Calment, a French woman, died in August 1997.

Contributing: Wyatte Grantham-Phillips; The Associated Press

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