The United States' oldest person has died aged 116, leaving behind 12 children, 48 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and 120 great-great grandchildren.
Hester Ford was either 115 or 116 years old, depending on which census report was accurate. Either way, she was the oldest living American when she died peacefully Saturday in Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks 'supercentenarians.' They listed her age as 115 years and 245 days.
'She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all,' said her great-granddaughter, Tanisha Patterson-Powe, in a statement emailed to news outlets.
Hester grew up picking cotton, wed at 14 and spent close to 60 years as a widow after losing her husband in 1963.
Hester Ford, the oldest living American, died Saturday at 116. The North Carolina resident was born in 1905, when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House
Ford's great-granddaughter Tanisha Patterson-Powe wrote on Facebook that her 'legacy and memory will continue to live on through her family and everyone she has touched to make the world a better place for generations to come'
Ford was born on a farm in Lancaster County, South Carolina, in 1905, if you accept the more conservative estimate of her age.
Born when Teddy Roosevelt was in the White House, Ford lived through 21 different presidential administrations. She was 15 when the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, giving women the right to vote.
She grew up picking cotton until she married John Ford at age 14, and gave birth to the first of her 12 children at age 15.
The couple moved to Charlotte in 1953, where she remained for the rest of her life. Her husband died in 1963 at age 57, three years after the couple moved to Charlotte. Hester Ford then lived in the home on her own, without assistance, until the age of 108, when she bruised ribs in a bathtub fall and her family members insisted on moving in to help. She lived in the home with family until her death.
That fall at 108 was the first time she had been hospitalized in her long life.
'She not only represented the advancement of our family but of the Black African American race and culture in our country. She was a reminder of how far we have come as people on this earth,' Patterson-Powe said.
Ford celebrates her 116th birthday with a drive-by party due to the pandemic
'She has been celebrated all over the world by local governments, community leaders, social media, foreign dignities and Presidents as a cherished jewel of society for holding the honor of being the oldest living person in America.'
In her final years, her family said her 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.
Family said she was still able to feed herself and walk short distances in her final years. She still attended the same church each week, too, until the start of the pandemic.
Ford had celebrated her 115th birthday with family, who organized a drive-by party of well-wishers because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ford is surrounded by family as Mecklenburg County declares Hester Ford Day in 2020
Ford, who lived unassisted until just a few years ago, said her secret to longevity was simple: 'I just live right, all I know'
In her later years, Ford would eat half a banana for breakfast and take a short walk
'We are honored and we just thank God for the opportunity to celebrate her,' said Mary Hill, one of Hester Ford's 68 grandchildren, told wbtv.com.
'She just continues to be a blessing to us. And she tells us all the time. You are here to be a blessing to someone else.'
Robert D. Young, director of the Gerontology Research Group, believes that Ford was likely 115 when she died, but told the Charlotte Observer that regardless of whether she was 115 or 116, she was the 'last known American born before 1906.
'When you consider that she was a mother of a WWII-era veteran ... it really puts into perspective: This was one of our last living links to an era that is nearly bygone', he said.
Last year, commissioners in her home county of Mecklenburg declared September 1 as Hester Ford Day to honor her 'life and legacy'.
Ford said her secret to a long life was simple.
'I just live right, all I know,' she said.