11/27/07 — Willard will wish her a very happy 101st birthday

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Willard will wish her a very happy 101st birthday

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on November 27, 2007 1:46 PM

Eileen Thornton turned 101 today.

And, on Thursday, she will be a star.

Willard Scott will announce her as a Smucker's birthday person on the Today Show at 8:30 a.m.

Among those who will be watching is Mrs. Thornton's son, Bob, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, but came home to help his mom mark her special day along with his sister, Sterling Jarrett, who lives in Goldsboro.

To be chosen is quite an honor, Thornton said.

"So many people are 100 now, they can only pick one out of 10," he said.

Mrs. Thornton lives in The Pines of Goldsboro -- and is still an active bridge player.

When she was born in 1906, Teddy Roosevelt was president, she said.

She attributes her longevity to swimming.

"I went to a boarding school, and we had three hours we could do as we pleased. All my girlfriends wrote love letters, but I went swimming. And I won every swimming meet every year I was there."

Mrs. Thornton graduated from Randolph-Macon College in her hometown of Lynchburg, Va., and started teaching school shortly before the Great Depression hit.

Bob Thornton was born while the family lived in Washington, D.C. and remembers his father's decision to move to Goldsboro.

"Dad wanted to get back to a small town. ... He was a southern Virginia farm boy, and he'd had enough of the big city," Thornton said.

He said his father spent three months looking for the right small town.

"It was the whole summer of 1957," he recalled. "He found Goldsboro and said, 'This is the place.' So we all packed our bags and came on down."

Mrs. Thornton has lived in Goldsboro 50 years now. She is a favorite among her fellow bridge club members, who call her "the queen of bridge."

And 66 bridge players threw her an early birthday party Monday after their game at the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church on James Street.

Her eyesight might be going south, and she might forget a few things, but Mrs. Thornton "still plays a mean hand of bridge," said Barbara Ann Vinson, president of the Goldsboro Bridge Club, of which Mrs. Thornton is an active member.

"I can't remember when I didn't play," she said, admitting that she does love the game.

Her son joined her at the bridge table Monday.

"I'm no expert. I just play with her when I come down here every three months," he said, describing the game as "three hours of pretty serious card playing."