As far as birthday parties go, this one may take the cake.
The guest of honor was Frances Brassey, celebrating her 107th birthday on October 4, at a party hosted by the Legacy at Highwoods Preserve, a New Tampa assisted living facility where Frances is one of 52 residents.
Since Frances was born in 1912 in Harlowton, Montana, she has seen more than 10 decades of changes in the world around her. The staffers at The Legacy say she is the oldest of their 52 residents by more than 10 years, and they believe she is likely the oldest resident in Tampa.
Her days typically begin when her private caregiver helps her to get dressed and eat breakfast. She prefers to drink a Coca-Cola with her breakfast, lunch and dinner, and keeps Coke in a mini-fridge in her residence, too.
Lifestyle director Ashley Gunter says the staff often tries to steer her toward water or cranberry juice, which she will drink, but it’s not her preference. “She’ll give us a look that says, ‘That’s not what I asked for,’” Ashley says.
After breakfast, Ashley says Frances loves to participate in morning stretches with the other residents. She eats lunch with her caregiver and often enjoys entertainment during happy hour.
Frances’s son Wayne (pictured above with Frances) lives with his wife in Arbor Greene. They come by to see her two or three times a week.
“We take her to get frozen yogurt at the yogurt shop,” he says.
Wayne says that Frances doesn’t communicate much anymore, but she always has a smile on her face. At 107, she doesn’t hear well and doesn’t see well, “but our bodies just weren’t made to live this long,” Wayne says.
When asked what has kept his mother alive for nearly 11 decades, he laughs, “If I knew the answer to that question, I would be talking through my attorneys and publicist.”
In her younger days, Frances and her husband, Edward, moved from Wyoming, where Wayne was born, to Louisiana, then to Panama, where they lived for 25 years.
“She was a pretty good square dancer,” Wayne remembers, saying she and Edward enjoyed dancing together.
Edward worked for an oil company, while Frances “was head of a couple of women’s clubs,” says Wayne.
“She was always a strong lady,” he adds.
In the 1980s, experiencing symptoms of Alzheimer’s, Edward retired to Clearwater, where he eventually passed away in 1985. Frances continued to live in Clearwater for three decades. She kept her mind sharp by playing bridge and enjoyed bridge tournaments.
Wayne would visit her, and eventually noticed she needed some extra help. He was retired, so he moved in and helped her for several years, until she needed additional care.
Her mind was still sharp, says Wayne, but she would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night and try to navigate the stairs. Fearing she might fall, he began to look for a safer environment for her.
In 2015, Wayne got married and moved to New Tampa, moving Frances into The Legacy as one of its very first residents.
For her birthday, though, Wayne was away due to a family emergency, so The Legacy staff took over, ensuring she was pampered and cared for on her special day. They touched up her hair and nails, which had been done in the on-site salon, affixing a birthday tiara and pins.
To kick off the celebration, local entertainer Ralph Espinosa crooned “Sixteen Candles,” then the gathered staff and residents sang “Happy Birthday.”
“We sang it twice because she really liked blowing out the candles,” says Ashley.
Wayne’s visited her a few times since her birthday.
“We try to do the best we can for her,” he says. “She’s not going to go to the movies every night or run track, so we make her as comfortable as we can.”
With a smile on her face, she enjoys those simple pleasures, including her Coca-Cola, frozen yogurt and time spent with her son.