Hardly anyone would find a centenarian who is still very agile, with her full mental faculty in place and with no significant medical condition.
Unequivocally, Guyanese-born Clarebel Agatha Williams, who turned 100 on Nov. 12, is phenomenal.
In a recent Caribbean Life interview in the living room of her daughter, Eileen Williams’s residence on Avenue A and East 94th Street in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the elder Williams exhibited profound cognitive skills — alertness, knowledge and awareness — for someone of her age, answering most, if not all questions sharply and even demonstrating much humor.
“[I am] just being contented and trying to work along,” responded Ms. Williams when asked what factors contributed to her longevity. “Everything you do, you do it in moderation.”
Flanked by two of her four daughters — Lynette McConnell and Olivia Williams — Ms. Williams said she has not had any significant illness over the years. [Eileen had travelled to Florida to visit her grandchildren over the Christmas holidays, and the eldest daughter, Yvonne Daly, resides in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada].
“Not much,” said Ms. Williams, referring to any medical condition, adding that, for the last few years, she has had no prescribed medication from her private medical doctor.
She said her blood pressure and sugar levels are normal, and that she does “basically everything in the house” for herself.
Ms. Williams, however, added that, occasionally, she gets a “little back pain or shoulder pain.
“I am usually surprised when young people tell me they have back pain or knee pain,” she said, with a wry smile.
But she quickly asked rhetorically: “You think you can grow up without any aches or pains?”
Up to her grand birthday celebration, on Nov. 12, at Glen Terrace in Brooklyn, Ms. Williams said she took two buses, unaccompanied, every Sunday to church at Ebenezer Methodist on Bergen Street in Crown Heights.
Williams, who migrated to New York in 1980 to join her children, said she had volunteered at the nearby Brookdale Hospital, for two-three years, as an aide; and was a very active member of the Ft. Greene Senior Center, downtown Brooklyn, from 1991-2014. The center honored her with a big party last Thanksgiving Day.
Ms. Williams said, over the years, she received Certificates of Participation from the Ft. Greene Senior Citizens Council, Inc. for her performance in, among other things, Afro-American History, sewing and art. She said she also modeled at the center.
Born on Nov. 12, 1916 at 18 Bent St., Werk-En-Rust, Georgetown, Guyana, Ms. Williams said she moved to 40 Charles St., now Charlestown, in Georgetown, when she married James Egerton Williams in 1937.
Her father, Isaac Davson died when she was “around 16 or 17,” Ms. Williams said, and her mother, Mariam Davson, went to the Great Beyond on May 10, 1952.
Ms. Williams said she lost her husband, a tally clerk (accountant) at the Molasses Company in Georgetown, on Sept. 20, 1969, when a motorcyclist “knocked him down,” as he rode his bicycle in the Guyanese capital. He was 60.
The unidentified motorcyclist, a month later, migrated to England, without ever being charged, Ms. Williams lamented.
“In those days, people got away with all kinds of things,” she said ruefully.
With 10 children — including six boys — to raise on her own, Ms. Williams, then a housewife, said she eked out a living somehow, while raising her children in the traditional, very strict West Indian way.
She said she even taught the boys to cook and clean, and perform other domestic chores, much like the girls.
“She made all her children do house work,” Lynette chimed in. “Everybody can cook, clean, wash and iron. The children did work.”
Three of her sons — Raymond, Clement and Norman — live in Brooklyn; Warren and Michael live in Georgetown; and Lloyd resides in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Ms. Williams said she is fortunate to have 29 grandchildren; 33 great-grandchildren; three great-great grandchildren; and “hosts of nieces and nephews.”
“I am very grateful to have my mom until now,” Lynette said. “And I’m very appreciative of her wisdom and the way we were brought up — very strict.”
Olivia was also very grateful for her upbringing, stating: “I thank her very much for taking care of all of us [children] and for giving us licks like peas when anybody came to complain.
“She would wring your ears,” Olivia said. “If your ears can’t hear, your behind is going to feel.
“We all had to come home from school [elementary] together,” she added.
A few days after the interview, Eileen, who had just returned from Florida, called a reporter, stating: “My mother wants you to put in the article, if you haven’t finished it, that she [had] attended Ketley Government School [in Georgetown].”
Asked how many more years she thinks she will live before she meets her Maker, Ms. Williams said: “I leave it to God.
“For me to choose a time, I think that is rude,” she said, looking straight at the reporter’s eyes, unsmilingly.