Hester Ford, who was believed to have been the oldest American, living long enough to have experienced two pandemics, both world wars, Jim Crow discrimination, civil rights movements and the elections of 21 presidents, died on Saturday at her home in Charlotte, N.C.
Census records show conflicting information for her year of birth, but she was either 115 or 116. The Gerontology Research Group, which tracks supercentenarians, or people over the age of 110, listed her age as 115 years and 245 days.
Her death was confirmed by her family in a statement.
“She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all,” her great-granddaughter Tanisha Patterson-Powe said in the statement.
Mrs. Ford was believed to have been born on Aug. 15, 1905 or 1904, on a farm in Lancaster County, S.C., where she grew up tilling fields and picking cotton. Theodore Roosevelt was president at the time.
She married John Ford at 14 and gave birth to the first of her 12 children at age 15.
The couple moved to Charlotte around 1960, and Mrs. Ford began working as a nanny. Mr. Ford died three years later, at 57. Mrs. Ford continued living in their home independently, until she was 108. Her family members insisted on moving in to help her after she fell in her bathtub and bruised her ribs.
Her eight daughters and four sons gave her 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,” Ms. Patterson-Powe said. “She was a reminder of how far we have come as people on this earth.”
Mrs. Ford celebrated her final birthday last year during the coronavirus pandemic with a socially distanced drive-by parade of friends and family members, who honked and waved from the street.
When asked what gifts she wanted, Mrs. Ford told the Charlotte television station WBTV, “Anything that anybody’ll give me.”
The Gerontology Research Group lists the oldest living person in the world as Kane Tanaka in Japan. She is 118 years and 114 days old. The next oldest American is Thelma Sutcliffe, who is 114 years and 207 days old and lives in Nebraska.
Mrs. Ford’s family said her daily routine involved a breakfast that always included half a banana, a trip outside for fresh air — weather permitting — and sitting in her recliner looking at family albums, doing puzzles and listening to gospel music.
When asked about the secret to her longevity, she told The Charlotte Observer, “I just live right, all I know.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.