BERKELEY, N.J. – Last week, Tallwoods Care Center in New Jersey received a special delivery: 110 roses.
One for each year Hilda Brown has been alive.
Brown turned 110 on Jan. 20, and she has beaten the odds in more ways than one.
Brown has joined the supercentenarian club – people age 110 or older. There are as many as 76 in the United States right now, according to the website Gerontology Wiki. And she reached that milestone right after surviving COVID-19, which she contracted in November.
“We are absolutely amazed,” great-niece Kristen Howe said. “My entire family is amazed.”
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Howe said the family was notified in mid-November that someone in close contact with Brown had tested positive for COVID-19. Then the family was notified that her roommate had tested positive. Shortly thereafter, Brown herself tested positive and was moved to a quarantine floor, Howe said.
“At that point, she was not exhibiting any symptoms,” Howe said. “Our main concern was that the people caring for her were changing. She’s very familiar with the nurses and caregivers there.”
Later, Brown’s oxygen level dropped.
“They had her on (supplemental) oxygen for about a month,” Howe said. “We recently were told she does not need the oxygen anymore. They moved her back to her room. For a couple of days, she wasn’t eating, so we were concerned about that, but since then she’s perked back up.”
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Family members have been visiting Brown at the care center through a window, for safety purposes.
“She’s been alert and talking, telling her normal stories,” Howe said.
Last year, when Brown turned 109, she did an interview with the Asbury Park Press, part of the USA TODAY Network. Tallwoods Care Center activities director Bonnie Primicile said she wasn’t up for that this year.
“She’s not as talkative as she was,” Primicile said. “She was excited to see her family last week. She did recognize them.”
Drove until age 93, walked until 103 and crocheted until 105
According to immigration documents and family records, Brown was born Jan. 20, 1911, in Newfoundland, Canada.
She was 1 year old when the Titanic sank. She lived through the 1918 “Spanish” flu pandemic but didn’t come down with it. As a teenager in 1927, according to family lore, she witnessed Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis flying over her hometown of Musgravetown on his way to completing history’s first solo transatlantic flight, from New York to Paris.
In her 30s, Brown moved to Fort Lee, New Jersey, where she worked as a waitress for four decades before retiring in 1980. She drove a car until age 93, walked until 103 and crocheted until 105. She dedicated much of her life to service – crocheting scarfs, hats and blankets for those in need and traveling the world as a church missionary.
“Who lives this long?” Brown said last year. “Out of 10 children, I’m the only one left. The others are all gone.”
Robert Young of the Gerontology Research Group, a leading authority on the world’s oldest humans, said last year that 1 out of every 4 million people lives to be 110 or older.
The oldest living American is North Carolina’s Hester Ford, who is 115. The oldest living person is Japan’s Kane Tanaka, who is 118. The oldest verified person in history was France’s Jeanne Calment, who died at age 122 in 1997.
‘I have a birthday coming up’
The week before her birthday, Brown surprised one of her nurses.
“She said, ‘I have a birthday coming up,’” Howe said. “The nurse looked around the room to see if there was a calendar. There wasn’t. Hilda must have remembered me telling her it was coming up. She’s still pretty sharp.”
Then the roses arrived – 110 of them, from nephew Jim Brown in Newfoundland. On the morning of her birthday, Hilda asked for nephew Robert Tapp and lit up later when she saw him waving through the window. Perhaps the icing on the cake was when her great-great niece, 10-year-old Julianne Howe, was allowed inside Tallwoods for an in-person birthday visit.
“They are 100 years apart,” said Kristen Howe, Julianne’s mother.
Brown recently received the second round of the COVID-19 vaccine, presumably turning the page on the latest test of her resilient life.
“We thought if anybody could beat it, she could,” Howe said. “She is amazing.”
Follow writer Jerry Carino on Twitter: @NJHoopsHaven
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