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Mollie Saxon Beard, 110; Was One of 41 'Super-Centenarians'

September 06, 2003|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Mollie Saxon Beard, a daughter of sharecroppers who was born on a plantation in Millen, Ga., in 1893 and who was among 41 known "super-centenarians" (people age 110 or older) in the world, according to one gerontology research group, died at home Wednesday in West Los Angeles. She was 110.

The cause of death was listed as congestive heart disease. Beard had remained self--sufficient and lived alone until three years ago, when she hired a housekeeper.

Beard attributed her good health and independence to a lifetime of physical labor, according to Dr. L. Stephen Coles, chairman of the Gerontology Research Group, an international committee affiliated with the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. He and other committee members look into claims of super-centenarian status.

Coles, who interviewed Beard on her 110th birthday on May 4, said she had told him that, at age 5, she had helped milk cows every morning before dawn. As a teenager she worked in the family kitchen. During World War I, she took a job in a bullet production factory.

Beard moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s and opened a family-style restaurant in West Los Angeles. She later owned a neighborhood grocery store in Santa Monica, but she spent most of her employed years doing factory work in the Los Angeles area.

She married Walter Beard in the early 1920s and the couple had five children before he died in 1928. She never remarried. All but one of their children lived to their 80s or 90s. Their last surviving daughter, Eunice Brandon, who is 88 and legally blind, moved in with her mother several years ago.

Alma Warner, Beard's niece, often visited from her home in Stone Mountain, Ga. When Beard was 108, Warner persuaded her to accept a clothes dryer as a gift. Until then Beard had dried everything on an outdoor clothesline.

"She was very active," Warner told The Times this week. "We went out to dinner every night when I'd visit Aunt Mollie. She loved Mexican food."

Beard's longevity contradicted popular wisdom about aging. She continued to drink coffee, smoke cigarettes and avoid exercise as much as possible throughout her senior years, she told Coles. She also told him that she drank a shot of vodka every day "and sometimes much more."

"The unique thing about Mollie was her sense of humor," said Coles, who attributed her longevity to good genes.

She liked to remind friends and relatives that she had outlived most of her doctors.

"Lifestyle choices can make a 10% difference in a person's longevity," Coles said. "Genes can make a 100% difference."

In addition to her daughter, Beard is survived by numerous nieces and nephews.

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