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Remembering Ms. Willie Lassiter

Willie-LassiterMs. Willie Lassiter, who was thought to be the third-oldest Pennsylvania and the second-oldest Philadelphian, died on April 9. She was 111 years old. A resident of West Philadelphia since moving with her husband from North Carolina in 1926, she died at the Penn Center for Rehabilitation and Care. She had moved into the Center in 1999 after suffering a stroke.

Born on September 30, 1900, Ms. Lassiter grew up in a world much different than today’s. She lived though economic depressions, when she stood in line to get rations of meat; through segregation, during a time when neither women nor African Americans could vote; and through two world wars. She was the granddaughter of slaves in North Carolina. In 2008, when she was profiled by Annette John-Hall in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Ms. Lassiter was thrilled by the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, saying that she never expected to live long enough to see a black man running for that office. Ms. Lassiter was also quoted in that story as saying, “They said at 100, you’ve seen it all. I say, you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

When she was younger, Ms. Lassiter worked as a department-store clerk. Her husband, Walter, worked in U.S. Customs. He died in 1961. Ms. Lassiter is survived by her niece, Lucille Murray.

In recent years, Ms. Lassiter was celebrated for her dignified aging and continued good spirits. Locally, her birthdays were noted by newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations, and she was featured on the Today show in October 2008, in a segment on living long. When asked by the Today reporter for her secret of longevity, Ms. Lassiter replied, “I had a good time just serving the Lord and doing His work.” Indeed, she served as a deaconess at Mount Olivet Tabernacle Baptist Church in West Philadelphia for more than 75 years.

Last year, Ms. Lassiter celebrated her 111th birthday in the company of family, friends, and the Mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter.

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