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An Exemplary Life: The Oldest American Passes Away at 114

Ian Harvey
Alelia Murphy. Photo by CNN
Alelia Murphy. Photo by CNN

The oldest living American has just left us at the astonishingly ripe old age of 114. Ask folks what they imagine contributes to longevity, and you’ll no doubt get a whole host of answers — daily exercise, a lean diet, and maybe even a tipple or two.These may indeed play a part, but scientists say that good genes and a big dose of luck are both vital ingredients to a long life as well.

In America, the longest living individual was Alelia Murphy, who turned 114 on her birthday this past summer, July 6th. Mrs. Murphy lived in Harlem, in New York City, for decades, although she was born in North Carolina, one of 12 children.  She moved to New York in 1926, during a period Harlem was undergoing a revitalization. Mrs. Murphy passed away in Harlem, with family at her side.

Mrs. Murphy married, had two children and became very active in her church and community organizations. She was so respected and well thought of that when she turned 114 last summer, the day was declared “Alelia Murphy Appreciation Day.” At the birthday bash,  New York state senator Brian Benjamin said about Mrs. Murphy, “This is Harlem history, this is family history, we are standing here with a Harlem landmark, a Harlem icon.”

Mrs. Murphy became a single mother in 1953 when she lost her husband to illness. She raised her children on her own, not an easy task for women, particularly African-American women, in 1950s America.  But she worked hard as a seamstress to support her family and made it work.

During the large celebration hosted by various community groups on her 114th birthday, Ms. Murphy was asked what she attributed her longevity to by NBC television show Good Morning America. She said it was her belief in God, and “being a good person,” that sustained her and helped her survive for so many years. She also said at the time that it’s important to “treat people right,” no matter the circumstances.

Her daughter, Rose Green, is a retired health care worker in New York. Her union put out a statement that read, in part, “It is with great sadness that we share the news of the passing of Mrs. Alelia Murphy….she was surrounded by family and friends (and) community leaders.”

At her 114th birthday party, Ms. Green expressed pride and deep love for her mother. “I’m so proud of her,” she said at the time, “and so glad to have had her for as long as I have.”

Also in attendance at the party was Mrs. Murphy’s granddaughter, Nefer Nekhet, who said, “her strength, I don’t know where she gets it from, (but) she is the glue that holds this family together.” Nekhet added that, as far as she knew last July, her grandmother had no obvious illnesses in spite of her advancing years. “We (asked) her,” Nekhet continued, ‘grandma, you’ve been here for a very long time…’ she said, ‘I’m here because you don’t know how to live, (and) I’m going to teach you how to live and things to do!’.”

Related Article: The Remarkable Life of the Oldest Known Woman to Ever Live

The mantle of oldest living American citizen has now been passed to Hestor Ford who, like Mrs. Murphy, was born in 1905. However the oldest living individual in the world is a gentleman in Japan, Kane Tanaka, who is an astonishing 116 years old.

Who knows if the secret is diet, lifestyle, exercise, attitude, or a combination of all four. Clearly Mrs. Murphy knew it, and lived her life by its principles for more than a century.