The three women are Fostine Riddick-Roach, 99, Josephine D. McBride, 109, and Lena Bradley-Davis, 100, who met as young women about six decades ago while their husbands were working as U.S. Postal carriers. The birthday girls may move a bit slower these days. A thought may fade. But they have a habit of snatching a half-forgotten memory out of thin air and elaborating. In other words, the three women moved a bit slower at the tea party. But their mind’s eye was still sharp. The birthday girls gathered to cherish a sweet smile, a hug, family values, and hard-work.
“I think my genes are good,” Fostine Riddick-Roach said, trying to explain her longevity in a recent phone interview from her home in Chesapeake. “Both of my parents were 100 when they passed. I believe if you follow what your parents taught you, you will do well in life.”
Riddick-Roach pointed to some of the lessons her parents passed on. She is the third eldest child of eight children born to Perk and Viola Glenn, who owned a farm in Elmore County, Alabama. They relocated to Muncie, Ind., when she was small.
Riddick-Roach said, “Pop told his children they could do three things. ‘You can get a job. You can get married. Or you can go to school.’ Those were his options.”
Zeroing in on her father’s third option, she explained how she enrolled at Tuskegee Institute. After she earned a nursing diploma in 1939 at Tuskegee Institute, she moved to Norfolk and accepted a job as a lab technician and an anesthetist at Norfolk Community Hospital.
“For the next 15 years I didn’t do anything else because I was working,” Riddick-Roach said. “I married Henry Riddick who worked at the post office. We lived in Lindenwood. I didn’t work. My nursing diploma was good for 15 years. So, I returned to Tuskegee and obtained a nursing degree. I lived on campus. Then I returned to Norfolk and had many job offers because I was one of the few who had a degree in nursing in Norfolk.”
Soon, she became the director of nursing at Norfolk Community Hospital and held the post from 1955 to 1963. Later, she moved to Hampton University to become the dean of the school of nursing in 1963. She held the post until 1981. Her first husband passed away. In 1986, she married Macon L. Roach who passed at age 95 in 2011.
The obvious question is how has she survived serious calamities such as the Great Depression, two World Wars, the Civil Rights era, the passing of her parents, and the death of two husbands?
“I was strong,” Riddick-Roach said. “My parents made me strong. My mother was 80 when she moved from Muncie, Ind., to live with me in Hampton Roads. But my mother joined several senior citizens organizations after she moved here. She won the 100-meter dash when she was about 80.”
Like her mother, she will not stop moving. She continues to work in her church, where she serves as a trustee at Mount Olive Baptist Church in Lindenwood. She is a faithful member of Chi Eta Phi, a nursing sorority that has over 8,000 members. Chi Eta Phi Sorority Inc. is a national sorority of registered professional nurses and nursing students which was launched by Aliene C. Ewell in 1932, according to its website. Recently, Riddick-Roach and her nephew William Carter III traveled to California to attend the nursing sorority’s annual meeting.
“I am still active in my church and my sorority,“ she said. “But I am slowing down.”
While a growing number of scholarly reports say understanding impacts the aging process, Riddick-Roach proves the point. “Keep reading,” she said. “Don’t ever stop reading. I tell everybody to read. You have to keep your mind open,” she explained.”
The three women who celebrated their longevity at the recent tea party in Chesapeake are part of a growing demographic. In 2001, the average U.S. life expectancy was 74 for men and 80 for women. But recent Harvard University records show the number of individuals aged 75–84 rose from 10.1 million in 1990 to 13.1 million in 2010 (a 30 percent increase), while that of individuals aged 85 and over jumped from 3.1 million to 5.5 million (a 78 percent increase).
Since people over age 65 will triple by 2050, and alter the nation’s demographics, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center, what makes some people live past age 65?
Riddick-Roach paused for a few second after she was asked why she had lived so long. Then she pointed to her habit of reading newspapers on a daily basis. “You have to keep up with what is going on around you,” she said. “You can listen to others and watch TV, but you still have to read. If I don’t read the newspaper I may not understand what is going on in the world. So, I tell people if you stop reading you really don’t know what is going on.”
Another birthday girl, Lena Bradley-Davis, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Aug. 11 attended the recent tea party in Chesapeake. The key to longevity is serving God, she said. “I don’t think you have problems in life when you love others. When you know the Lord loves you and you love others, it is the main thing.”
Bradley-Davis is the wife of a retired mail carrier and the mother of five children. Four of her children live in Hampton Roads while one lives in Michigan. She retired as the secretary of Bank Street Memorial Baptist Church after 33 years of service. Of her 100th birthday which she celebrated with relatives at a recent family reunion in Orlando, she said,” All of our husbands worked at the post office and that is how we met.”
The three birthday girls, who have known each other for several decades, never envisioned holding a 100th birthday celebration. “I felt like I was on a cloud at my 100th birthday party,” Bradley-Davis said. “My relatives honored me at our family reunion that was held in Orlando. Even the people on the plane honored me. I still feel like I am on a cloud. I have never seen anything like that in my life. I received lovely gifts.”
Bradley-Davis is a Booker T. Washington High School graduate. She earned her degree at Virginia Union University in Richmond. Then she married and started a family.
Riddick-Roach, the youngest of the trio at 99, hosted the event in Greenbriar for her friends who both had birthdays in August. Josephine D. McBride turned 109 on August 27.
Their friend, Bradley-Davis, who turned 100 on August 11, described the tea party. “It was really fascinating to sit there and realize that all of us have about 300 years between us. We have been friends for over 60 years. It was a wonderful tea party.”
By Rosaland Tyler