After living 114 years, Elizabeth Francis still loves meeting new people — a personality trait linked with enjoying a long life.
She greets a reporter calling her on the phone with an enthusiastic, “Good morning, how are you?”
When asked how she feels at 114 and what her secret to longevity is, the great-great-grandmother credits a higher power.
“It’s not my secret. It’s the good Lord’s good blessing,” Francis, who lives in Houston, Texas, tells TODAY.com. “I just thank God I’m here.”
She was born on July 25, 1909, a few months after William Howard Taft was inaugurated president, and has lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Spanish Flu and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Francis recently celebrated her birthday with a party attended by several generations of her family and other guests.
She was particularly excited that longevity researchers from Norway came to talk with her.
Francis is currently the second oldest person living in the U.S., the seventh oldest living human on the globe and is included on the list of supercentenarians — people who are 110 and older — validated by the Gerontology Research Group, which verifies and tracks the world’s oldest people.
(The oldest person living in the U.S. is currently Edith Ceccarelli, a California woman who turned 115 in February.)
Longevity runs in Francis’ family: One of her sisters lived to be 106, another sister made it to 95, and their father died at 99, says Ethel Harrison, Francis’ granddaughter.
Francis lives with her 94-year-old daughter, Dorothy Williams, in a private residence. It’s not an assisted living facility, but caregivers come to the home every day, says Harrison, who visits both women most days of the week.
“It’s just amazing,” Harrison, 68, tells TODAY.com. “We’re so grateful that she’s still here, and my mom, who’s her daughter — she only had one child — is still alive also.”
Francis is confined to her bed and has some memory problems, but she’s mentally alert and recognizes her family, she adds.
There were 80,000 people 100 years old or older living in the U.S. in 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The agency doesn’t have a separate category for Americans who are 110 or older, but one of its previous reports estimated they make up 0.6% of the centenarian population, which would translate into 480 supercentenarians living in the U.S.
Francis’ family shared the habits that have helped her live a long life:
Warm social connections
Francis loves people and liked being a caregiver for others, always taking care of somebody or cooking a favorite meal for a loved one, Harrison says.
“She enjoyed her family. We would always have her over. We’re always doing things together as a family unit,” Harrison notes. “(It’s) interaction and just having love for one another and just being present.”
“Try to do the best thing you can to everybody. Love everybody,” Francis adds.
Social connections and supportive relationships can lead to better health and a longer life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fresh, home-cooked food
The supercentenarian always had a little garden in her backyard where she grew her own vegetables, including collard greens, mustard greens, carrots and okra. She’d bring the produce right into the house and cook it, her granddaughter recalls.
“She always cooked at home. … I just think she enjoyed cooking,” Harrison says. “I don’t ever remember her going to a fast food (restaurant).”
Chicken was often on the menu, as was okra with rice.
“I cooked everything. If they’ll eat it, I’ll cook it,” Francis says.
Taking care of the body
Francis never smoked or drank alcohol, and she regularly walked until her early 90s, her granddaughter says.
She never had cancer or heart disease, which may be an example of “the older you get, the healthier you’ve been,” according to the New England Centenarian Study. It found many supercentenarians were able to delay major diseases until the very end of their lifespan.
The great-great-grandmother “took care of herself. She tried to do things to stay healthy,” Harrison adds. “Her life basically was pretty simple. She didn’t go out to parties and stuff like that. She was more of a homebody. She would go to church.”
Having faith, hope and purpose in life
Francis has been a member of the Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Houston since 1939 and credits her faith in God for keeping her alive so long, Harrison says.
She also described her grandmother as an optimist who would often say, “I just believe that everything’s going to get better.” Having a high level of optimism was associated with longer lifespan past age 90, studies have found.
Francis worked in the coffee shop of a local TV station for about 20 years.
“She was a hard worker. That’s what I remember most about her. Even when she retired, she still would work. She did domestic work, but she was always working,” Harrison recalls. “Even though she didn’t make a lot, she saved her money. She didn’t just go out and just buy things.”
Women who work for pay have slower memory loss as they age, a study found. A job can be a major source of stress, but it can also provide social engagement, intellectual stimulation and a sense of purpose in life, the authors noted.
Harrison says she’s awed by her grandmother’s healthy habits and good genes: “Maybe there is some hope out there for me to live that long,” she notes.