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Betsy Stanford to turn 107

Betsy Stanford celebrates her 107th birthday

Betsy Stanford celebrates her 107th birthday

Betsy Stanford of Northwest Washington was born in Jamaica the year the Wright brothers made their first flight. She's been living in Washington since 1976. Friends and family threw a big birthday bash for her Sunday.



By Ann Scott Tyson

Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 29, 2010; 6:00 AM

Betsy Stanford turns 107 years young on Tuesday, and the spunky matriarch from the District has no shortage of longevity advice - from dietary to spiritual to downright racy.

What to eat? Anything and everything. "Juicy steaks . . . pork chops - as much as you want!" Stanford exclaims. "Everything they say not to eat, I've been eating it since I was 45 years old."

These days, she admits to a particular fondness for a smoothie made of Guinness stout mixed with the nutritional supplement Ensure, a drop of vanilla flavoring and a sprinkle of nutmeg "if [the stout] is too bitter."

"I drink stout. It's good for you, baby!" Stanford said as she held forth with a group of relatives and fellow worshipers at her 107th birthday celebration Sunday at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Northwest.

Stanford was born in Jamaica on Nov. 30, 1903, the same year the Wright brothers made their first flight. She later moved to Panama City with her husband, then settled on Varnum Street, where she still lives, in 1976.

For years, she was in charge of housekeeping at the Madison Hotel on 15th Street NW and was known for the fastidiousness with which she would inspect rooms, said a great-niece, Michelle Thomas of Laurel.

Known as Aunt Millie, Stanford had no children of her own, but she raised Thomas's father, and Thomas and her siblings consider Stanford their grandmother.

Stanford also sewed and crocheted clothing to sell and worked as a babysitter. She always had at least two jobs, Thomas said.

Indeed, Stanford says another secret to long life is a routine of hard work. "Go to bed early, get up early. Feel good and fresh and go to work on time," she said, her white hair pulled back. "And don't leave without the boss's permission!"

Stanford plays Scrabble and works crossword puzzles. She often tells detailed stories from her childhood in Jamaica, impressing relatives with her keen memory.

"I have to ask her for phone numbers," said her great-nephew, Tony Robinson, 51, who lives with Stanford. "She can add quicker in her head than you can with a calculator."

Now almost blind, Stanford has arthritis and high blood pressure but still makes her way around the third floor of her brick rowhouse, heating coffee in her microwave by pressing buttons whose location she has memorized. "She knows everything in her house," said Michelle Thomas's husband, Leo, who spent a year living with Stanford along with his wife.

Stanford listens to CNN and WTOP radio and enjoys talking politics and world affairs. She won $100 from Robinson after betting that Barack Obama would be elected in 2008. "My boy did good," she said of the president.

The outspoken Stanford also dishes out advice on romance and sex, patting the cheeks of her nieces' boyfriends as a way of sizing them up without being able to see them. She puts new partners through "the third, fifth, and sixth degree," said Angela Williams, another great-niece.

"Aunt Millie is spunky, feisty, and she's earned the right to say whatever she wants to say," said great-niece Judith Hall of Sterling. She said Stanford's advice to female relatives on how to hold a marriage together is: "Give it up."

At Sunday's celebration, Stanford clapped vigorously after chorus member Sherry Antoine sang "Ave Maria." She raised her hands high during a jazzy version of "Happy Birthday" and sat up front for a performance of Jamaican dancing and a cello recital of "Hot Cross Buns" by her great-great-niece Baylee Thomas, 9.

Wrapped in a coat and blue blanket, she checked her own blood pressure - 129 over 80 - before holding hands with relatives while she cut her chocolate birthday cake.

Holding a microphone, she counseled friends and relatives to pray often and with "a pure heart."

And if other advice is needed, she is ready. "Ask me anything - just call me!" she said.

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