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'Oldest Man' a Teetotaler Who Loves His Pipe

January 14, 1990|ROBERT BYRD | ASSOCIATED PRESS

MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — It's hard to know what to expect when you're being ushered into a hospital ward to meet The Oldest Man In The World.

You fear that he will be in worse shape than the other patients, that you'll be intruding.

Nope.

Jackson Pollock, who claims to be 123, is 6-foot-9 with cottony white hair. He is a healthy man, especially for someone who's 123. He likes starched shirts, hearty breakfasts and smoking a pipe, detests the hospital where he lives and chats happily with people who stop by to see him.

He even has his jokes down pat.

How old are you, Mr. Pollock?

"I'm 510 now," he says.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists Carrie White of Palatka, Fla., as the "Oldest Living Person," at 115. Pollock insists that he is eight years older.

Alyce Friend of the state Office on Aging has tried to document his history, with limited success. The search wasn't helped by some confusion over his name; at some point after his arrival at Central State, his records were somehow changed to "Jackson Pollard," a mistake only recently realized.

Pollock has no birth certificate; not many blacks born in rural Georgia two years after the Civil War got one. The Social Security Administration lists his birthday as Dec. 25, 1869, but Pollock insists that it's really 1866. Either would make him the oldest human, but longevity experts say Social Security records can be based largely on a person's word and are considered unreliable.

Pollock says he was one of the eldest of 13 siblings, born on a farm near Hawkinsville in central Georgia. At that time, census records listed only a few black citizens there, those working the farms of white landowners.

Department of Human Resource staffers found several people who recalled a large black family named Pollock near Finlayson, near where he says they lived. And records show that a James Pollock--presumably Jackson Pollock's father--bought land in 1857.

Alyce Friend believes Pollock, and has submitted everything she could find to Guinness officials. Guinness, for now, remains doubtful.

Pollock doesn't much care.

Asked if he thinks his age is any big deal, he just shakes his head. After all, he says, his mother lived 107 years, his father 99.

He is more opinionated about other things.

Pollock likes the people who care for him, but Central State Hospital "is the worst place in the United States." Many other men in its Long Term Care unit can't get around or are unstable, and he keeps mostly to himself.

Pollock was brought to Central State against his will 17 years ago. He was living near Dublin in central Georgia when some neighbors told the sheriff they didn't think he should live alone anymore. It's said that he chased some people away with a shotgun, fearing that they were after his Social Security check.

"He's only here because there's nowhere else for him to go," said Smithie Thomas Abrams, a hospital spokesman. Pollock has no living relatives.

He never had children, never had a wife. "I had a good time without being married. I just stayed home with my people."

Because of his birthday in December, Pollock has been visited by several news reporters. "It's nice when people come down and meet you," he said. "It's good enjoyment."

Pollock spent most of his working years on the railroads. He was in the Army during the Spanish-American War and again during World War I, when he went to England and Germany. He was already retired when Social Security began, but was "grandfathered" in. That is about the only support he has.

Friend says she has found no records of his military service, but many Army records from the time were lost to fire. It also isn't known whether the black soldiers, who were relegated to menial chores, were listed with white soldiers.

In his younger days, Pollock enjoyed going to church about as much as anything. "I'd sit down and enjoy myself; it's the best fun you can have."

He loathes hospital food, but every day enjoys a special breakfast of two eggs, two pieces of sausage, two helpings of grits and two cups of scalding hot coffee. "I drink it barefooted. No cream, no sugar."

He never drank, but says he has smoked for 117 years--Prince Albert tobacco only, please. He wears crisply starched khakis and silk socks and spends most of his days--and nights--reclining in his big leather easy chair.

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