AMHERSTDALE - The average life expectancy in the United States is about 78 years, but one woman from Buffalo Creek tops that figure by more than a quarter of a century.
As the U.S. celebrated its 243rd birthday on July 4, Mary Magdalene Brown, of Amherstdale, celebrated her 110th birthday. Born in 1909, her birth predates both the sinking of the Titanic and World War I by three and five years, respectively. At 110, she classifies as a supercentenarian, which is among the oldest living people on the planet.
Born in Forest City, North Carolina, Brown and her family moved to West Virginia in 1922 when she was 13 years old. They settled in Holden, a booming coal mining community at the time, where she attended school until the ninth grade.
Not long after her school days, she met Walter Henry Brown, the man who would become her husband for 75 years before his death in 2001. The couple had seven children, three of whom are still living. The oldest will turn 89 later this month, and the other two are 86 and 84.
Her husband was a resident of the Buffalo Creek area, and the two settled in Braeholm, where he worked as a coal miner for the Guyan Eagle Coal Company of Amherstdale. She worked several jobs as well, including at PRIDE and at Buffalo Elementary School as a cook.
The couple lived in Braeholm until the devastating Buffalo Creek flood of 1972 destroyed their home. They later moved about three miles up the road to Proctor Bottom in the nearby community of Amherstdale, where she still lives today.
An African American woman, Brown lived under Jim Crow segregation laws for much of her life, and most of her children attended Buffalo High School, which was the all-black school in the Man area before 1960. When asked about that time period, she recalled both good and bad.
"Sometimes it was pretty good, and sometimes it was pretty nasty," she said. "We all thought we was all glued together with school back in our time. Some of it was nice, and some wasn't."
Despite current economic hardships in the southern West Virginia coalfields and media reports that often paint a picture of doom-and-gloom in the area, Brown said things have gotten better when asked how things have changed over the course of her long life.
"As far as I'm concerned, it turned for the best," she said. "Sometimes before, we had some pretty hard times, but everything got better."
Overall, she said, her life as a whole, including her marriage, only got better as she aged.
"In my younger days, it wasn't so good," she said. "It was ups and downs with a married life, but up in the years, everything got sweet. We'd get along good, and our married life done good."
Other than being a bit hard of hearing and in a wheelchair, Brown is still relatively healthy, with her diet consisting of foods like vegetables, fruits, cereal, coffee and "too much" candy and cookies, according to one of her daughters. She takes several medications every morning and has somewhat unusual sleeping pattern for her age, going to bed around 11 p.m. every night.
Brown attributes her longevity to a few factors, with her faith being the biggest one.
"Treating everybody right, treating God and then trying to treat myself right," she said. "But I always try to give my credit to God, not me, and not to no doctors, because I would have been gone a long time ago. I give God the credit."
Geraldine Green is Brown's oldest daughter.
"Sometimes it's kind of tough, because she still acts like we're 18 or 20," she quipped. " 'Do this, do that' - when we (the three living children) come down, we gotta do."
On her 100th birthday in 2009, Brown was honored with the Town of Man's Key to the City by Mayor Jim Blevins. Ten years later, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) honored her with an official letter expressing his best wishes for a "momentus and celebrated birthday."
"I understand that on July 4, 2019, you will celebrate your 110th birthday," Manchin's letter reads. "As your family and friends honor you, I know this will be a most memorable occasion for you to reflect on your rich and fulfilling life, your lifetime of incredible experiences, and the amazing changes and progress you have seen throughout the years. I am certain that over the past 110 years you have added both happiness and wisdom to the lives of those around you, and it is my wish that the joy of this special birthday and the love you share with those closest to you will remain with you always."
Despite her odds, Brown doesn't plan to live another 10 years. "It's just too hard," she said.
Green and Brown's other living daughter reside in Cleveland, Ohio, and they make it back to Amherstdale as often as they can. Her living son stays with her at her home and helps take care of her alongside a caretaker.
Dylan Vidovich is a news reporter for HD Media. Contact him by phone at 304-896-5196.