Diedra Laird/The Charlotte Observer via AP Hester Ford
Hester Ford, the oldest living American, died on Saturday at her home in North Carolina, family members announced. She was at least 115 years old, and possibly as old as 116.
"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 a statement. "She was the seed that sprouted leaves and branches which is now our family."
Ford had 12 children and more than 200 total great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, according to the Charlotte Observer.
She was verified in 2017 as a supercentenarian by the Gerontology Research Group, which listed her birthdate as Aug. 15, 1905, making her 115 years and 245 days old at the time of her death.
Family members, however, said that different U.S. Census Bureau documents indicated she was born one year earlier, in 1904, which would have made her 116, the Observer reported.
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"Her light shined beyond her local area and she lived beyond a century with memories containing real life experience of over 100 years," Patterson-Powe's statement read. "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."
Born in Lancaster, South Carolina, Ford grew up on a farm picking cotton, plowing the field and cutting wood, WAGA-TV reported. Her husband John Ford died in 1963 after 45 years of marriage.
"Anyone that she embraced was never a stranger in her presence. She loved everyone. She treated everyone like family," Patterson-Powe told the outlet. "She's just smiling down on us and she's just in a better place."
In her century-plus of life, Ford was never hospitalized, and only in recent years had family members move in to her home to help take care of her, the Observer reported.
When asked about her secret to living such a long life, Ford said: "I just live right, all I know."
Her granddaughter Mary Hill said at the time that a typical day involved singing, breakfast and time spent in the fresh air outdoors.
"Then she has certain little games she likes, like the Go Fish game, where she has to catch the fish and pull it out. She has an Etch-a-Sketch where she writes her name," Hill said. "And we sing, we do puzzles together, we look at the family album. And the best thing she loves to do is get in her recliner and watch her family on (home videos) and watch and listen to gospel singing."
The Gerontology Research Group now lists Nebraska resident Thelma Sutcliffe, 114, as the oldest living American.