Arts & Culture

Secrets From 100-Year-Old Southerners

A handful of Southerners with good advice on how they made it to a tenth decade

A highly condensed history of the last one hundred years in America: Soldiers fought in two world wars, man walked on the moon for the first time, and the Internet was created. And a small group of the population was alive for all of it.

For the new coffee-table book If I Live to be 100: The Wisdom of Centenarians, the photographer Paul Mobley traveled to all fifty states to capture the portraits of 100-year-old (and up) Americans. The writer Allison Milionis conducted interviews with the subjects and their families, sharing the story of each centenarian, some of whom have since passed away.

Among the featured interviews are a handful of Southerners with good advice on how they made it to a tenth decade.

Discuss important matters over barbecue.
Bernard and Beatrice Hirsh, Dallas, Texas
Born July 18, 1916 and April 3, 1914

After meeting on a group trip to Asia, Bernard and Beatrice corresponded for several weeks. Then Bernard asked Beatrice to visit him in Texas. “I met her at the airport and took her to lunch. It was good ole Texas barbeque,” he says. Midway through their sandwiches, “I said, by the way, would you like to get married?” She nearly choked from the surprise, but then she put down her sandwich and replied. “That’s how we got together,” he said.

Paul Mobley

It’s not about looks.
Mandy Robinson, Slidell, Louisiana
Born April 10, 1915

Robinson, who has lived in Mississippi, New York, Texas, and Louisiana, is known for mentoring the women in her family. “Pretty doesn’t get you far,” she often says. “You need to have some brains in your head.”

Paul Mobley

Keep your dreams alive.
Henry Miller, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Born April 22, 1914

“I was back home,” said the retired mechanic and airplane enthusiast after he went for a ride in a restored Spartan C3 biplane in honor of his one-hundredth birthday. “I felt an adrenaline rush I haven’t felt in twenty years.”

Paul Mobley

Make your own way.
Walter Jackson, Vero Beach, Florida
Born December 9, 1903

Jackson worked with fruit growers for years until he learned enough to purchase—with his brother—a few acres of his own. The brothers eventually ran their own citrus grove. “We figured if we could do it for someone else, we could do it for ourselves,” he said.“So we set out to do it.”

Paul Mobley

Stay curious.
Ernest Backus, Nashville, Tennessee
Born September 15, 1915

After Backus’s wife passed away, his daughter asked if he’d be all right living on his own. “I may be old, but I can still learn,” he responded. “Just teach me one new thing a week until I master each.”

Paul Mobley

When all else fails, dance.
Marie Cassady, Louisville, Kentucky
December 8, 1912

Over her century of life, dancing helped Cassady through the struggles of divorce and the deaths of loved ones. Movement was her escape. “You gotta dance and be happy,” she said. “Dancing is good for your heart.”

Paul Mobley