What a great moment in history to be in the company of three women celebrating more than 300 years and birthdates collectively.
It was in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights Center at the Marcus Garvey Nursing Home. Can you imagine the wisdom, experience, observations the three boast? The loves, the tragedies and ultimately the joy of longevity? The many generations of families and friends they’ve seen?
On Monday, I was privileged to be at the celebration.
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams sent a representative to present these fine over- centenarians with a proclamation from his office. With the numerous cameras flashing and bouquets of long stem roses raining from all directions the three ladies basked in the warmth and love.
During my earlier visit, Sunday, they wore their Sunday best dresses. They were willed into a glass-enclosed atrium separately for their interviews.
Lucille Price and Sophia Smith are both from Guyana. They arrived in America in 1965 and 1968, respectively.
Lucille was born in 1916. She worked as a homemaker, hairdresser and visiting nurse. At 17, Lucille met and married Alfred Lawford Price. When shown an old photo of her husband Alfred, from back in the day, she teared up during our meeting. He was a bauxite worker from Georgetown, Guyana’s capital.
Lucille and Alfred had five children. She has fond memories of working in her garden and raising chickens. Lucille recalled how frequently entertained, and was quite popular with many friends. A staunch Catholic, in 1965 Lucille became a member of Brooklyn’s Our Lady of Victory Church on Troop Avenue. She attributes her longevity to food “grown from the earth” and walking.
Sophia Smith was born in Mariahs Lodge on the West Bank, Guyana in 1915. She migrated to the U.S. in 1986 and was stunned, she recalled, to see trees with no leaves. Winters don’t come to lush Guyana. Sophia did not attend school; work took precedent in the West Bank town of Mariah’s Lodge in those days.
Between farming and midwifery, Sophia made a living. She married Ezekiel Smith, 17 years her senior, at 17, and also had five children.
Three of her children live in New York and two remain in Guyana. Sophia is a Seventh Day Adventist, and still attends Shiloh Church on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. She feels that healthy eating habits of staples from their homeland attributed to their longevity.
A big part of her diet included cassava, plantains and eddoes. She blames U.S. foods for the diabetes she later developed; plus being confined in an apartment.
She said faith is important and attends church regularly. Sophia’s admonition is “to be careful in everything you do. Look to the way things were yesterday. There is too much liberty in young people.”
Our homegrown senior, Marie Grace Baker, was born in Brooklyn. She was a member of Concord Baptist Church for 84 years. She met her future husband on the way to church. “I was walking, he was driving and he offered to drop me off at church”, she said.
They married in 1938 and purchased a brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant. This house was a special place for family and friends. Among her gifts and talents, was fine hosting and gourmet cooking.
Marie had three children. One son has transitioned, but the twins, Gerri and Audrey, are very much involved in her care and in the community.
Marie showed her resilience after recently being involved in a serious car accident. In her golden years, she required extensive rehabilitation.
For 40 years she worked as a secretary to cardiologists Drs. Cohen and Lowey in Manhattan. She was a member of the 79th Precinct Council, Quincy Street 500 Block Association, New York City Museum, and a long-time contributor to WBAI radio.
Marie attributes her daily dose of “Christian faith” for longevity. Her daughter Gerri reflected on something her mother always says: “You will recognize class when people don’t have it as you grow older.
I look forward to these three ladies joint birthday celebrations.