103 years of history — one smile at a time

Published 8:47 am Thursday, August 6, 2015

For over a century, history has smiled on Elizabeth Lowry Barrere, and the 103-year-old Farmville resident has smiled right back.

“I’ve had a wonderful life,” she said.

Elizabeth Lowry was born on May 6, 1912, one month after the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic.

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“She’s gone from the horse and buggy days to a man on the moon,” half-brother Ray Lowry said.

Elizabeth was born in Lamberton, Pa.

“My mother died when I was 2 years old, and my grandfather came and brought me and my brother George to Virginia on the train,” she said. “I lived with my grandparents, George and Margaret Elizabeth Lowry.”

The Lowry farm was located on what is now the Five Forks Road on the western edge of Prince Edward County.

“The house wasn’t much of a house,” Elizabeth said. “It was a three-room house with a walkway through there and a log cabin on one side. My grandparents fixed the log cabin up and used it for a kitchen and dining room.”

One morning Elizabeth woke up at 3 a.m. to the sound of a roaring fire.

“The log cabin was burning,” she said. “We didn’t have firemen or anything back then. We carried water from the well, but the fire burned up everything we had. We didn’t even have a tin cup to get a drink of water!”

Another not-so-pleasant memory of childhood was the Influenza Epidemic of 1918.

“I remember that flu epidemic,” Elizabeth said. “My brother George had it — we didn’t think he would make it.”

George survived, and a few years later both children started school.

“It was a one-room school,” Elizabeth said. “My grandfather took us in a horse and buggy. When I got a little older, I got a cart and horse and drove to school.”

In the fall and spring, however, horses were needed on the farm.

“Then I walked the three miles to school and three miles home,” she said.

Before and after school there were farm chores to be done.

“I milked the cows morning and night,” Elizabeth said. “Did you know I gathered eggs three times a day? We had chickens — 100 leghorns. If you get too many eggs in the nest the chickens will break ‘em. We didn’t want to lose any because we sold them in town.”

When Elizabeth was 8, her great-grandfather joined the extended family on the farm.

“He was in the Civil War,” sister-in-law Harriet Lowry said. “His name was J. J. Miller, and he was there during the surrender at Appomattox.”

The Great Depression was another challenge for the Lowry family.

“We was lucky,” Elizabeth said. “We lived on the farm and had lots of food. People would come to the farm hungry — walk all the way from their homes. My grandmother would never turn anybody away.”

Elizabeth’s reputation as a “wonderful cook” started on the farm.

“My grandmother showed me how to cook a lot of things,” she said. “We had a good time making biscuits, light bread, cornbread and pancakes. We had a grand time on that farm!”

Elizabeth was 23 in 1935 when she decided it was time to leave the farm and go to work.

“I went to Richmond and got my first job at Sauer’s Extract Company,” she said.

After a year she returned to the farm to help her grandparents, then took another job in Richmond at Miller & Rhodes.

On Oct. 12, 1939, Elizabeth married Leon Barrere.

“Leon’s mother died when he was 15, and my mother died when I was 2, so we got along fine,” Elizabeth said.

It was a happy time for the young couple, although World War II was looming on the horizon.

“While the war was going on, Leon was there almost four years,” she said.

While Leon was gone, Elizabeth worked for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.

“I ran an International Business machine,” she said.

After the war Leon went to Virginia Tech on the GI Bill, graduating as an electrical engineer.

“We had to move to North Carolina, and Leon told me I could just be a housekeeper,” Elizabeth said. “So I mowed the lawn, kept the house, cooked and did all the groceries. I did everything, and I stayed busy!”

Keeping busy, Elizabeth believes, has contributed to her longevity. After returning to Farmville, she continued to keep busy in a variety of ways.

Elizabeth was, in fact, climbing an apple tree to gather apples to make a pie when she broke her arm.

She was 85 at the time.

“That ladder turned right over and threw me off!” she said.

The past six years, Elizabeth has made her home at The Woodland in Farmville.

“Being 103, the doctors will fight you,” she said. “They don’t want you to stay at home by yourself!”

Despite the change of address, Elizabeth continues to be active in the community.

“When Elizabeth was 100, I took her to vote,” her half-brother said. “A

bunch of college girls was in line in front of us. I told them Elizabeth was 100 years old and would they let us in front. They let us pass — I think those girls were impressed with Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth smiled her thanks to the group of college girls who received a valuable lesson in citizenship that day.

“She still goes to church on Sunday,” her sister-in-law said. “Elizabeth has two girl friends who pick her and up and take her to church.”

Elizabeth is always happy to offer her views on longevity.

“People don’t take care of their bodies like they should,” she said. “The Lord made us and gave us a head to take care of ourselves — people don’t do it!”

“Eat everything on your plate, sleep and rest,” she added.

Elizabeth’s favorite restaurant is the Red Lobster.

“I don’t see too well, I don’t hear too well, but my health is perfect,” Elizabeth said.

Members of The Woodland staff often comment on Elizabeth’s positive attitude.

“She always wakes up with a smile,” her sister-in-law said. “She tells me that she’s just happy to be here.”

“I’ve seen the kind of life that went on 100 years ago,” Elizabeth said. “And I would love to see what’s going on in another 100 years.”

If anyone could accomplish such a feat it would be Elizabeth Lowry Barrere — living proof that optimism knows no bounds.