05/02/08 — Her secret to living to 100? Taking life's twists in stride

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Her secret to living to 100? Taking life's twists in stride

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 2, 2008 1:45 PM

Velma Smith, in her wheelchair in a sunroom at Brian Center Thursday, knew the reason for the balloons and cake brought in by her family.

"How old are you, Mama?" one of her children asked.

"100," she said softly.

She smiled as the room filled with well-wishers there to see her.

Decked out in a floral dress and pearl necklace, she proudly wore one of her gifts, a prayer shawl made by the members of the church her youngest child, Debbie Creech, attends in Greenville.

Mrs. Smith doesn't speak much, but she expressed her appreciation in other ways -- gesturing to visitors, occasionally fighting back tears.

Born Velma Gregory on May 1, 1908 in Johnston County, she was one of six children and went on to have six of her own. The widow of Relmon Smith also has 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

A larger celebration is planned for Sunday, with relatives expected from as far away as Alaska.

In the meantime, four of her children -- Lehman Smith, Jack Smith and LaNell Evans, all of Goldsboro, and Mrs. Creech -- gathered on Thursday to commemorate their mother's big day and reminisce a bit. Their oldest sibling, Joyce Ann, died more than three years ago. She was a tennis player who once befriended professional player Arthur Ashe and brought him home for a visit, they said.

"He came through here, and (Mrs. Smith) invited him to lunch," recalled Ann Smith of Rosewood, Jack's wife. "Afterwards we all asked if she got an autograph. She told us, 'He was just a very nice young man.'"

Velma Smith was a farmer's wife who worked with the Wayne County Curb Market selling milk, butter, vegetables and meat. She was known for her pound cakes.

At age 92, she was still making pound cakes and delivering slices to seniors in her community, Lehman said.

In fact, he added, "At 92, she was still driving the car they bought in 1968. I tried to give her a newer model Oldsmobile but she wouldn't have it. She said the brake wasn't in the same place."

The family lived modestly, the children said, but always had "room for one more" at the dinner table.

Mrs. Smith was a grade mother for each of her children and a strong supporter of the teachers. New ones at Rosewood School were welcomed with an invitation to Sunday dinner.

Her longevity, several speculated, could be attributed to her philosophy of life.

"Whenever we would tell her something or complain about something, she'd often say, 'We'll see how it turns out,'" said daughter-in-law Polly Smith, married to Lehman.

"She just took it all in stride," Lehman said.

Second youngest LaNell said her mother gave all kinds of good advice.

"With my children, she'd say, 'Don't tell her so many things to do. Just make sure she does what you tell her,'" she said.

In declining health, Mrs. Smith worried about being a burden to her children, Lehman said, turning down offers to live with any of them.

"She continued to live in her home until she was 95," he said. She moved into Brian Center in 2003, where at least one of her children or grandchildren has visited her on a daily basis.

As each paid tribute or recalled familiar sayings from their mother, the love and respect were also sprinkled throughout their comments.

"Our father taught us the difference between right and wrong," Lehman said. "Our mother taught us 'why'."