A Charlotte, North Carolina woman believed to be the oldest living person in the U.S. and one of the oldest living people in the world, has died Hester McCardell Ford was at least 115, although she might have been as old as 116. Ford died peacefully at her Charlotte home on Saturday, her family told the Charlotte Observer. She was the matriarch of an enormous family, including 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren, and 120 great-great-grandchildren.
"She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much-needed love, support, and understanding to us all," Tanisha Patterson-Powe, one of Ford's great-granddaughters, told the Observer. "She was the seed that sprouted leaves and branches which is now our family. God saw fit to make her the matriarch of our family and blessed us to be her caretakers and recipients of her legacy."
Ford was born in Lancaster County, South Carolina, and grew up on a farm where she picked cotton. At 14, she married John Ford and their first of 12 children was born when Ford was 15. Ford and her husband moved to Charlotte around 1960. He died three years later at age 57. After his death, she lived in the same home until she turned 108 on her own. When she fell in the bathtub and bruised her hips, her family was finally able to convince her to allow someone to live with her to assist. Incredibly, she was never hospitalized during her life.
In recent years, Ford began gaining notoriety as she became among the oldest living person in the U.S. Her birthday often attracted local media attention. She celebrated her final birthday on Aug. 15, 2020, meaning she lived through two pandemics. She was either 13 or 14 during the 1918 influenza pandemic. The confusion over her exact age stems from U.S. Census Bureau documents. Her family said one set of documents show she was born in 1905, but another showed she was born in 1904.
"The reality is, Hester Ford’s age, even at 115, still made her the last known American born before 1906," Gerontology Research Group director Robert D. Young told the Observer. "When you consider that she was a mother of a WWII-era veteran ... it really puts into perspective: This was one of our last living links to an era that is nearly bygone."
"Phe wanted people to have the type of faith that she had; to be able to believe that anything is possible," Patterson-Powe told WCNC. Ford's family has not made funeral arrangements yet. They ask the public to take a moment to think about how the world has changed since Ford was born.
Ford became the longest-living American in November 2020, after Alelia Murphy died in New York at 114 years and 140 days old. Thelma Sutcliffe of Nebraska now holds the title at 114. The oldest living human in the world is Kane Tanaka of Japan. She turned 118 on Jan. 8 and is now believed to be the only remaining mother of a World War II veteran alive. The American who lived the longest in U.S. history is Sarah Knauss, who was born in September 1880 and died in December 1999, living over 119 years.