WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio – Rebecca Lanier has seen a lot. More than most people could imagine. She has breathed the air of parts of three centuries.
So when she entered the Warrensville Heights Senior Center near Cleveland on Tuesday, there was widespread applause. It was due because Mrs. Lanier has lived for 119 years.
The birthday party has become a yearly event for Mrs. Lanier, who now lives with her grandson, Jimmie Shambley, 61, and his family. When asked how was she doing, the answer came quickly and with a full voice.
“I’m doing alright,” she said.
That was an understatement.
“She still is in her right mind and has great health,” said Shambley. “She is able to move about every day and makes her bed up every morning as she gets herself dressed.”
On March 24, 1892, Rebecca Lanier was born in a small Mississippi community. Her grandson said her parents had been slaves. Though slavery had ended when Rebecca Lanier was born, laws and practices against black people still were prevalent in the South. Because she was black, there was no birth certificate. That was usually the case in the American South during those years.
However, Shambley proudly displays a letter from the Social Security Administration verifying her birthdate as in 1892. Mrs. Lanier’s family wants the Guinness Book of World Records to acknowledge her age, which would make her the oldest living person in the United States, perhaps the world.
“But the Guinness people want a birth certificate,” said Shambley.
It would be a birth certificate the family could not supply.
Still, 119 years is 119 years. As Mrs. Lanier, dressed in a gray pants suit, ate sandwiches and munched on birthday cake, well-wishers swirled around her. Next to her chair was a walker, which she uses to balance herself as she walks.
Her family said even at her age, Mrs. Lanier travels with the family, often on airplanes, to various events throughout the country. Six years ago, when she was 113, she said the secret to long life was “to keep on livin’.” That, she has done.
She has outlived her husband and their two daughters. The daughters died in 2004.
When the party ended, Mrs. Lanier got to her feet and walked slowly to her grandson’s car, which had been pulled to the curb. Even at age 119, she did not need help in getting into the car. As the door was closed, she looked through the window, waving.
“God bless you,” she said.