Born in 1909, “America’s Grandmother” has kept her zest for life deep into the 2020s. Whatever one may expect before meeting a 114-year-old is thrown out when one comes face-to-face with the effervescent Ms. Francis. Dressed elegantly, she recognizes visitors as soon as they step through the door, no glasses required. She sometimes serenades new arrivals with a song from her mind’s extensive jukebox. She doesn’t need hearing aids to converse and doesn’t hesitate to interject when someone needs correcting. She lives at home with her daughter, Dorothy Williams, 95, and they are visited daily by family and people they consider family. Her walls are adorned with proclamations from Houstonian political leaders, who regularly visit to show their respect.  Ms. Francis is the oldest person in the world who lives at home rather than in a care facility. A remarkable community brings the world to her, including family members, neighbors, and friends from her longtime house of worship, Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church. Most active in Ms. Francis’s life is her granddaughter, Ethel Harrison. Armed with know-how from over four decades as a registered nurse, Ms. Harrison serves as primary caregiver for her mother and grandmother.
At the age of 69, Ms. Harrison is in rare company when it comes to having a living grandparent. Still, the joy she expresses is familiar to grandchildren everywhere of all ages. “When I open the door to her room and she just looks up at me and says ‘Good morning!’ it warms my heart every time and I just love her,” she beams, following up with a similar sentiment about her mother, Ms. Williams. Also in the room is Ms. Francis’s youngest great-great-grandson, the apple of her eye and a frequent presence in her life despite the duo being born over a century apart.
What is the secret behind her longevity? Her family and friends offer sensible contributing factors such as her lifelong abstinence from alcohol or smoking, her high activity levels into old age, and being surrounded by love throughout her life. She never allowed the state of the world to cause her stress, despite growing up in a segregated society and living through two world wars. Genetics also certainly played a role, with longevity running in her family. Her sister, Bertha Johnson, lived to the age of 106, with Ms. Francis serving as her primary caregiver in her final years.
But ask Ms. Francis herself and she has always offered a much simpler reason for her longevity: she fully credits the Almighty. “I just thank the Good Lord for keeping me here,” she states matter-of-factly. “He’s had no reason to take me.”
For Ms. Francis, her faith inspires her attitude towards life, a philosophy encased in her favorite Bible verse, from the First Epistle of John:
“He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”
Her faith helped her emerge from early hardship with the warmth and confidence she carries today. Though she lost her own mother when she was 11, she has been a mother figure to generations of her descendants. She is close with her grandchildren’s grandchildren. And now, she is the matriarch of an entire nation.
Elizabeth Francis held the admiration of her community well before she became famous for her longevity. While supercentenarians often attract media attention, the TV news reporter beside Ms. Francis on this day is no interloper. Today, Melanie Lawson of ABC Channel 13 is widely celebrated as “the Voice of Houston.” But she was a rookie 40 years ago when she first met Ms. Francis, who was then running the snack bar at the studio. Now, Ms. Francis herself is the story.
Decked out in yellow – Ms. Francis’s favorite color – and bearing a bouquet of sunflowers, Ms. Lawson seems more like a member of the family than a reporter covering an event. On this day, however, she does have one particular question for Ms. Francis, “When you hear you are the oldest person in the United States, how does that make you feel?”
Without missing a beat, Ms. Francis replies, “I just feel like living every day!” It’s easy to see why.