Her Life Could Touch 3 Centuries North Phila. Woman Turns 100 On Dec. 31

Posted: December 16, 1999

In February, it looked like the end was near in the long, happy life of 99-year-old Estelle Brewington Horsey.

She lay close to death at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital - unresponsive, silent. Days passed. One nurse who always spoke with patients no matter how dire their condition asked, "How do you feel?"

As if by a miracle, Horsey responded, "Tres bien [very well]."

"Mom knows French. She taught French," says her daughter, Estelle Wilson. "She came back. She's a fighter."

Two months later, doctors said Horsey's leg should be amputated, but she might not survive the surgery. Maybe, suggested the doctors, she should just go home and wait for the end.

"I prayed about it," says Wilson. "I never took her out of the hospital."

She lost the leg, but she's still kicking. "She beat the odds again," said Wilson.

In fact, there's every indication that corks will be popping on New Year's Eve as scores of relatives and friends celebrate Horsey's 100th birthday.

She was born on a farm in Allen, Md., on Dec. 31, 1899 - hours before the death of one century and the birth of another.

In a few weeks, she will join a rare club - those who have lived in three centuries.

Horsey told much of her life-story five years ago in a videotaped interview with her grandson, Kareem Turner, then 14.

"I go along with the century," she told the youngster. "And when the 20th century got here, I was one day old."

She expressed great pride in a grandfather who fought in the Civil War and owned a large Maryland farm, she referred to as a "plantation." Her father was also a farmer. "And he was a businessman, too. He sold horses the way they sell cars now. That was the mode of transportation then."

Her mother was a teacher who had 10 children. Horsey is the last surviving child.

Inspired by her mother, Horsey became a teacher, earning degrees from a teachers' training school in Maryland and Howard University in Washington - class of 1926.

Asked her most painful memory, Horsey declares that she has no painful memories. Asked about racism, she says she never encountered it much.

Her best memory? "Going to college," she quickly responds.

After teaching in Maryland and Virginia, she married pharmacist Oley "Buddy" Horsey, who once operated a drugstore at 23rd Street and Columbia Avenue and died in 1966.

She was 42 when she married and had only the one child. But her large heart and warm personality made her a mother figure to many in the neighborhood around 15th and Norris streets.

She worked as a substitute teacher in city schools but developed a sideline as a fine seamstress.

"She made drapes for people on the Main Line and sewed Mummers costumes," says her daughter.

Horsey traveled to Europe and even got to visit Buckingham Palace. She loved books and poetry and gave dramatic readings.

But she never lost one aspect of her country girlhood. She loved playing baseball and could still hit a long ball in her 70s.

She was devoted to health food and an exercise regime long before both became fads.

Her daughter is her primary care giver, but grandchildren and great-grandchildren all happily lend a hand. You can feel the love and pride that surrounds the wheelchair-bound matriarch.

"You're going to be 100, Mom," they shout into her ear.

"One-hundred?" she says in amazement and cracks up with laughter.

Send e-mail to averyr@phillynews.

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