‘She was a pillar’: Hester Ford, oldest living American, dies at 116

Hester Ford, the country’s oldest living citizen, died Saturday at the age of 116 of natural causes, according to her family.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our beloved Mother Hester McCardell Ford today," the family posted on Facebook. "She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all."

"But she leaves behind such a great legacy that we’ll take that with us," her great-granddaughter, Tanisha Patterson-Powe, told FOX Television Stations Saturday. "We’ve been given the torch today and we got to continue to move on and keep her legacy alive.

Ford was born Hester McCardell in Lancaster, South Carolina, on Aug. 15, 1904. She grew up on a farm picking cotton, plowing the field and cutting wood. Ford married her husband, John, at 15 years old and the couple moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 1953. Her husband died in 1963 after 45 years of marriage.

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Ford was the matriarch of a massive family that consisted of 12 children, 48 grandchildren, 108 great-grandchildren and 120 great-great-grandchildren. 

Relatives said Ford was known to take care of sick neighbors, feed the hungry and keep her doors open for anyone. Ford spent much of her life serving as a nanny for affluent families.

"Anyone that she embraced was never a stranger in her presence," Patterson-Powe said. "She loved everyone. She treated everyone like family. 

Patterson-Powe said her great-grandmother credited her Christian faith and spirituality to living such a long life.

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Last year, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina declared Sept. 1, 2020 as "Mother Hester McCardell Ford Day," honoring her with a proclamation. 

In 2019, the Genorotolgy Research Group declared her the oldest living American. 

"I think Granny loved that," Patterson-Powe said about Ford receiving the title. "She enjoyed the attention."

Funeral arrangements are still pending.

"She’s just smiling down on us and she’s just in a better place," Patterson-Powe added.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.