The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
State’s oldest woman dies
BY PORTSIA SMITH
A Caroline County woman believed to have been the oldest woman in Virginia has died at age 112.Maggie Margaret Montague James, affectionately known as Ms. Maggie, died in her sleep late Friday afternoon, said granddaughter Vernessa Ware.
She was born March 10, 1900, in Woodford, where she lived for 100 years until moving to the Bowling Green Health and Rehabilitation Center in 2000.
When asked about her secret to longevity, James would jokingly say “I believe God has forgotten about me.”
But Ware says the real key to her grandmother’s long life was following the doctor’s orders.
Ware said that in the 1930s, James suffered from high blood pressure and was put on a strict diet.
She said the doctor told her not to eat pork and very little salt.
That’s a diet she stuck to for the rest of her life, mainly eating chicken and fish.
“Her health was pretty good ever since then,” Ware said.
According to Stephen Coles of the Gerontology Research Group, the global authority on validating supercentenarians, James was the oldest person in Virginia, the 12th oldest person in the United States and the 30th oldest person in the world as of May 27.
He was saddened to have to update the organization’s website this week with the news of her death.
There are now 70 people—65 women and five men—in the world over the age of 110.
While at the Bowling Green health center, James was big on God and family.
“She loved to come to church, and her life revolved around her family,” said activities assistant Sharon Johnson.
Johnson said they would have birthday parties for her every year, and she always had tons of visitors and flowers.
In 2009, she was personally invited to meet first lady Michelle Obama when she visited Bowling Green.
While she was happy to meet Mrs. Obama, the then-109-year-old James wasn’t sure why there was so much excitement.
“Mrs. Obama puts on her pants one leg at a time like I do, so what’s the fuss?” she told administrator Will Blackwell as they were preparing her for the visit.
Blackwell said James was a very humble woman but had no problem speaking her mind.
Ware, 62, her oldest grandchild, said James was very alert up until her last few months. She said her short-term memory and vision had started to decline and she was on the verge of dementia.
Ware and the health center employees said James would share stories about her life growing up on a farm in the Paige area of Caroline.
She married Deacon George James, and they had two sons. She outlived all of them.
When the country was hit by the Great Depression, the homemaker kept her family afloat.
“She sold eggs to keep the house. She raised chickens. She churned butter. She took care of everybody because she was just a strong woman,” Ware said.
But Ware, an educator in the Caroline County Public School system, said the most important thing that James stressed to her family was getting an education.
James, who completed up to the fifth grade in a one-room schoolhouse, was an avid reader and used to read the newspaper every day.
“There are just so many things I remember about her during my childhood,” Ware said. “It was such a blessing to have her for so long.
A funeral for James will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Third Mount Zion Baptist Church in Woodford.
A viewing will be held Friday at noon at Cedell Brooks Funeral Home in Port Royal.
Portsia Smith: 540/374-5419
In 1900, when Maggie James was born:
A loaf of bread cost 5 cents.
A quart of milk cost 8 cents.
A dozen eggs cost 18 cents.
Life expectancy at birth was 47 years old.
A public school teacher’s salary was $328 per year.
—“The Value of a Dollar: 1860–2004,” Grey House Publishing