Many happy returns: Island resident Halford Pope celebrates his 104th birthday

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Many happy returns: Island resident Halford Pope celebrates his 104th birthday

By DAVID LAUDERDALE dlauderdale@islandpacket.com 843-706-8115
Published Sunday, August 26, 2007 in The Island Packet  |  721 Words  |  editorial/col/thatsthat

Life is precious, and you better grab it while you can.
I'm reminded of that every time I visit a home for seniors.
It happened again Friday when I was invited to the Preston Health Center at The Cypress on Hilton Head Island.
I was invited to help Halford Pope celebrate his 104th birthday, which he did in grand style.
"I hope it's from Oregon," Pope said as he raised a glass of white wine. About 20 of his neighbors sang "Happy Birthday" as he sat in a Hawaiian shirt and lei in front of a birthday cake that looked big enough to last a year.
But what's a year to a man born in 1903 -- the same year Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight and Henry Ford sold his first Model A.
Pope wheeled himself into the party room, controlling the gizmos that steer his electric chair. He's a stocky, healthy-looking man with a head full of hair, lively blue eyes and a big smile. Garnette, his wife of 17 years, attributes his longevity to that good disposition.
"He eats well," she said. "And he stayed active."
Pope can't hear thunder, but we can forgive that. Remember that the median age in this state is 35. By comparison, Pope has been retired 44 years from Union Carbide, where he was in charge of converting accounting from paper to computers.
Ann Harrison of The Cypress staff helped me try to extract the secrets of life from the man who might be the oldest in our community.
"I had a life that was full of physical activity," Pope booms.
"I was a Class B Country Club tennis player," he tells us several times.
He played tennis three times a week until he was 85.
He was an active square dancer and he loved to garden. He was known for his beautiful zinnias. His grandchildren remember having ice cream topped with his home-grown raspberries.
But in his fondest memories, Pope was a cowboy.
"I spent seven summers in a ranch-hand job on my aunt's ranch in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains," Pope said. He said he had two horses and herded cattle. He milked cows.
"Did I ever love ranch work."
He was born in Kansas City, Mo., where his mother taught him to eat a healthy diet, with no fried foods and no red meat.
He's not a big believer in medication, but said, "I've just hung on here, and a lot of it is due to my physician (Dr. Patricia North)."
Exercising the brain also is important.
Pope was in the Harvard University Class of 1925, and got a master's degree in business there two years later.
Harvard says Pope is its sixth oldest living graduate. Pope and a man who led the parade at this June's graduation ceremonies are the last of 589 members in Harvard's Class of '25.
The current issue of the Harvard Gazette features a story on its oldest graduates. They have a lot in common.
The oldest is Walter H. Seward, who at 110 also is the seventh-oldest man in the world. He practiced law until he was 96. He's a lifelong hiker who can still nearly flex a knee to his chin, the Harvard story says.
A 105-year-old graduate went to his office four days a week until last year. "Never retire," he advises. And exercise. He ran marathons into his 80s.
And he recommends at least nine hours of sleep a night -- and no drinking or smoking.
Pope has no qualms with sipping white wine, but he does sleep a lot these days.
He doesn't get out as much, but his mind carries him to places all over the globe. He and a friend bought a Renault and drove all over Europe before they settled into jobs.
"I've had an extensively-traveled life, and I've enjoyed every bit of it," Pope said.
He likes to read history, and he's a generous member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Lowcountry in Bluffton.
Ann Harrison asked Pope what's next now that he's 104.
"I don't want to live too long," he said.
I told you life is precious.