"I live right, all I know," Hester McCardell once said when asked about her longevity. The North Carolina woman, who was the oldest living American, died peacefully on Saturday at the Charlotte home where she had lived for more than 60 years, CNN reports. Her exact age was unclear—one set of Census Bureau records put it at 115, another at 116—but either way, she was among the oldest people in the world, with a date of birth as close in time to the French Revolution as to the present day. Ford, who was born on a farm in South Carolina in either 1904 or 1905, had 12 children, 68 grandchildren, 125 great-grandchildren, and at least 120 great-great-grandchildren, per the Charlotte Observer.
Relatives say Ford lived in the same house on her own for more than 50 years after husband John Ford died in 1963. Relatives moved in to help after a fall at age 108 caused her first-ever hospitalization. "She was a pillar and stalwart to our family and provided much needed love, support and understanding to us all," great-granddaughter Tanisha Patterson-Powell tells the Observer. "She was the seed that sprouted leaves and branches which is now our family." The new oldest living American is 114-year-old Nebraska resident Thelma Sutcliffe, according to the Gerontology Research Group. The oldest person alive is believed to be Kane Tanaka, a 118-year-old woman in Japan. Ford's death makes Tanaka the only known living mother of a World War II veteran. (Read more oldest person stories.)