Tuesday, April 18, 2000

Bessie Thomas, 112, was oldest county resident

Ex-cook lived simply but long

BY William A. Weathers
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Bessie Thomas
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        Bessie Thomas, 112, thought to be the longest living resident of Hamilton County, died Saturday in her sleep at the Amber Park Retirement Community in Deer Park.

        Ms. Thomas, who lived through world wars and epidemics, used her centenarian fame to share her principles of hard work, saving money and treating others with respect.

        Ms. Thomas had lived in a retirement home for seven years, after having kept her own home up until then. She was known to the staff at retirement community as “Ms. Bessie.”

        In an interview with the Associated Press last June, Ms. Thomas said she never drank alcohol, believed in eating lightly and stayed away from movies, preferring to sing old religious hymns.

        She said her parents probably were slaves early in their lives, but they never talked about it. She said they taught her rules to live by.

        “Work hard, save your money and mind your own business,” Ms. Thomas advised. “You treat everybody alike and be as good to everybody as you can.”

        She still recalled the first car she ever saw, during her childhood in Georgia, and remembered a killer flu epidemic during World War I.

        “My mama died about then, and so many of the young soldiers died. A lot of them died from the flu, and they would send them home in sealed coffins to try to keep the flu from spreading. There were so many, many coffins,” she said.

        During her 110th birthday party, Ms. Thomas recounted her recipe for life — hard work sprinkled with a lot of rest, compassion and doing the right thing.

        “I worked hard and took my proper rest,” she said of her longevity.

        She lived for more than 20 years in Avondale, and she “always took care of every body,” her nephew, James Thomas, said then of the lady most people called “Cousin Bessie.”

        Ms. Thomas never drove a car or flew in a plane. She helped care for relatives but never married nor had children of her own.

        When the boys wanted to marry her, she ran; when she was ready to marry, they ran, Ms. Thomas responded when asked why she never married.

        “I didn't want children if I couldn't take care of them right,” she said. “I always worked hard and tried to do what I thought God wanted. If I made a nickel, I saved three cents of it, and I took care of my house and garden. I didn't go running around like lots of folks.”

        Her nephew, James Thomas, recalled hearing her advocate simple virtues.

        “That was the general rule she went by: If you treat everybody right, then you will be blessed,” he said. “It wasn't hard to figure out what she was saying.”

        President Clinton sent Ms. Thomas a card for her 112th birthday on March 10.

        Ms. Thomas, born in 1888, grew up with two sisters and four brothers on her parents' farm near Macon, Ga.

        She had a sixth-grade education but said she never stopped reading and learning. She was still reading newspapers in the final months of her life.

        Ms. Thomas came to Cincinnati from Georgia in 1923, when her two brothers sent her money to take the train and join them. She found an apartment that cost about $10 a month.

        She held factory and cleaning jobs, then worked more than 20 years as an orderly at Good Samaritan Hospital and as a cook at the University of Cincinnati. She was 77 when she retired from a job as a cook at Xavier University.

        Services will be 1 p.m. Thursday at the Hall-Jordan & Thompson Funeral Home, 2625 Gilbert Ave., Walnut Hills. Visitation will be from noon to time of services Thursday at the funeral home. Burial in Beechgrove Cemetery, Springfield Township.

        The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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