Bessie celebrates 105th birthday having survived two pandemics
TORONTO -- For the second time in her life, Bessie Stallworthy celebrated her birthday while in the midst of a global pandemic.
The first was in 1918, during the Spanish flu when Stallworthy was just three years old. The second, today, when she turned 105 during Covid-19.
She admits she doesn't remember much about her first pandemic birthday, but this was one she will never forget.
Dozens of people gathered down the street from the Kingston Road home where Stallworthy has lived for more than half a century, and then, on foot, paraded past her house to offer their best wishes. Sitting on her front porch, Stallworthy watched as person after person came to pay their respects from a safe social distance.
"It's just tremendous," Stallworthy told CTV News, "I'm absolutely blown away."
Stallworthy was born on July 12, 1915, in London, England. Before moving to Canada in 1951, she'd already lived through two world wars and the great depression. One of the first things she did upon settling in Toronto, was to join the congregation of Kingston Road United Church. "I've been working my bottom off ever since," Stallworthy said with a laugh. To this day, she remains active in the church.
And it's her faith that she credits with getting her to 105, an age she admits she never thought she'd reach. When asked for the secret to her longevity, Stallworthy replies, "I think it's my belief in good old God."
Sunday's birthday parade was organized by her fellow parishioners. Granddaughter Sheri Gardiner told CTV News, "she just loves people, and I think it's pretty obvious today that people love her too."
Finding a way to safely celebrate a 105th birthday during Covid-19 can be a challenge.
"I feel as if I'm living my life in a bubble," Stallworthy said.
The normally active and social centenarian says she's been trying to stay social but at a safe distance from those who visit. And she says while she heard stories about the 1918 pandemic from her mother, Covid-19 gives her pause. "Well this one is so different, I'm not sure how we're going to come out of it."
Stallworthy has been married twice, and along with remaining active in her church, she's a lifetime member of the Girl Guides and speaks to students about her experiences during the war each Remembrance Day.
Those at her birthday celebration marvelled at how active she remains at her age. Stallworthy says with a smile, "life has to be lived. And you have to get up in the morning and say 'thank God I'm alive,' even though it hurts a little everywhere."
As for what she might do to celebrate her 106th birthday next year, Stallworthy thinks for a second, and then says she'd like to fly to British Colombia, to visit family- including a new great-grandson she has yet to meet.
But for this birthday, Stallworthy sat back, and blew kisses from her porch- celebrating a milestone most will never achieve, and looking back at a life most could never imagine.
"It's been an incredible journey, and I feel that I'm the luckiest woman in the world to have gone through it."