Live Long And Well
When Elizabeth Francis celebrated her birthday in July, the Houston, Texas resident earned a title that few people have ever achieved: Francis is the oldest living person in Texas. Now, Francis’ age of 114 places her in the unique class of supercentenarians—people who are 110 years old or older.
The great-great-grandmother enjoyed a birthday party in August with five generations of her family. Francis lives in Houston with her 94-year-old daughter, Dorothy Williams, in a private home. While it’s not an assisted living facility, caregivers visit the home every day to help both mother and daughter, according to Williams’ 68-year-old daughter, Ethel Harrison.
“It’s just amazing,” Harrison, who visits her mother and grandmother most days of the week, told Today.com. “We’re so grateful that she’s still here, and my mom, who’s her daughter—she only had one child—is still alive also.”
Francis’ longevity has garnered interest from media representatives, geriatricians, and researchers. She was especially thrilled when researchers from Norway came to talk with her about her life.
Although Francis is confined to her bed and has some memory problems, Harrison said she’s mentally alert and recognizes her family. What’s more, Harrison said her grandmother still enjoys meeting new people. For instance, when a reporter called to talk with Francis, she answered: “Good morning, how are you?”
Apparently, longevity runs in Francis’ family. According to Harrison, one of Francis’ sisters lived to be 106; their father died when he was 99, and another sister was 95.
Francis was born on July 25, 1909, about four months after the inauguration of William Howard Taft as the 27th president of the United States. She has lived through World War I, World War II, the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu pandemic (1918-1920), and the COVID-19 pandemic a century later.
Francis is the seventh oldest living person in the world, and her inclusion on the list of supercentenarians has been validated by the Gerontology Research Group, a global nonprofit organization of researchers around the world who verify and track the world’s oldest people. She is also the second oldest person living in the United States. Currently, the title of oldest living person in the United States goes to California resident Edie Ceccarelli.
The U.S. Census Bureau does not have a separate category for supercentenarians, but the agency reported that 80,000 people, 100 years old or older, were living in the United States in 2020.
Healthy Lifestyle Linked To Francis’ Longevity
While Francis’ good genes apparently played a key role in her long life, her family, as well as researchers and geriatricians, believe her healthy lifestyle contributed to her long life.
To begin with, Francis said she never drank or smoked, and Harrison said she regularly walked until her early 90s. She “took care of herself. She tried to do things to stay healthy,” Harrison told Today.com. “Her life basically was pretty simple. She didn’t go out to parties and stuff like that. She was more of a homebody. She would go to church.”
The supercentenarian also had her own garden.
“She always grew her vegetables in the backyard. I never saw her go to a fast food restaurant as much like Chick-fil-A and all the places I liked to go. She never did that,” Harrison told KTRK-TV, (ABC 13), the local television station in Houston. Harrison recalled her grandmother growing collard greens, mustard greens, carrots, and okra. She would bring the produce into the house and cook it, Harrison said.
Chicken was one of Francis’ favorite foods, as was okra with rice.
“Whenever you went to her house, I don’t care what day of the week she was cooking. So, I just think that had a lot to do with it, too,” Harrison told NBC Make It. “Just how she took care of her body and things like that.”
Another factor that may have contributed to Francis’ longevity is her willingness to stay active. Harrison recalls her grandmother being a “hard worker.” Francis worked in the coffee shop of a local TV station for about 20 years and did domestic work after she retired.
A 2020 study found that women who work for pay—regardless of their marital status or whether or not they had children—have slower rates of memory loss after 60 than women who did not work for pay. Although a job can be a “major source of stress,” the study’s authors noted that work offers women social engagement, intellectual stimulation, and a sense of purpose in life.
Francis “has done everything right” for longevity, Dr. Holly Holmes, a geriatric physician and an associate professor of internal medicine at McGovern Medical School at UT Health, told ABC 13.
“Things that we know we need to do like moving more, eating better, having a more plant-based diet, having social connections, avoiding loneliness and isolation,” Dr. Holmes said.
In nearly 30 years of investigating how people live beyond 100, Dr. Thomas Perls, co-director of the New England Centenarian Study, identified five important practices that can boost a person’s chances of living to age 90 and beyond:
- Managing stress levels
- Getting good quality sleep
- Eating healthy
- Exercising often
- Not smoking
Francis’ daily habits aligned with several of these practices, including the way she handled stress. For instance, Harrison described her grandmother as an optimist who would often say, “I just believe that everything’s going to get better.”
The supercentenarian’s outlook can serve as an example of a 2019 study by researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, who found that having a high level of optimism was associated with a longer lifespan past age 90.
Francis’ optimism seems to be rooted in her faith in God. Harrison said her grandmother had been a member of the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston since 1939, and she credits God for keeping her alive so long.
While there may be a variety of factors that contribute to her longevity, for Francis, it all boils down to one divine factor: “This is a blessing, the Lord’s blessing.”