Woman celebrates 105 years

Published 9:26 pm Monday, January 31, 2011

Yancey Birdsong chats with long time friend Carol Lynne Shotton at Birdsong’s 105th birthday celebration on Saturday.

Few people reach 105 years of age. And fewer people would be noted at age 105 for their sense of humor, humanitarianism and active lifestyle.

But as Yancey Birdsong celebrated her 105th birthday on Saturday at Lake Prince Woods, she was surrounded by friends and family who commended her as a role model and pillar of strength.

“I’ve never seen anybody with as positive an attitude as she has,” said Emmitt Griffin, a longtime friend.

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Yancey Birdsong was born in Tennessee, but she grew up in Charlottesville, Va. She came to Suffolk as a music teacher, and here met her husband and became part of the Birdsong family, famous in this area for their peanut business.

After marriage, Birdsong stayed home to raise her family but continued to be very involved in the Suffolk community.

“She’s been active in lots of things throughout her life,” said George Birdsong, her son, who said that his mother has always been involved in civic and community groups.

Birdsong served her community by opening the Obici Auxiliary office, working as a volunteer at the Obici surgical waiting room and serving six years on the School Board. Yancey Birdsong said that she has been part of too many social clubs to mention in her 105 years. She was one of the first residents of the Lake Prince Woods retirement community when it opened in 2002.

During her birthday celebration, her guests watched a documentary filmed in the 1990s that featured Birdsong and two of her nieces. The ladies were explaining how they survived the hurricane of 1933 while vacationing at Nix Club in the middle of the Nansemond River.

At the time, the family was celebrating Paul Birdsong’s birthday and was unaware that the hurricane was heading their way. Birdsong said in the film that there were no hurricane warnings in the ‘30s.

Birdsong, who was pregnant at the time with her first son, spent the night with other family members on top of wooden lockers. In the morning, Captain Leon O’Neil, oysterman and fisherman, made several trips to get everyone on land, rescuing the family. An article about the rescue was featured in an Aug. 23, 1933 edition of the Suffolk News-Herald.

At Birdsong’s party, everyone had a story to tell of their shared experiences with Birdsong.

Friend Carol Lynne Shotton, who was part of several clubs with Birdsong, said Birdsong always has a good sense of humor.

“She is full of life,” added Marionette Spain, a friend of more than 50 years. “She is happy all the time. Everybody’s not like that, but we should be. She has a positive attitude about everything. I think that’s why she has lived so long.”

Emmitt Griffin described her as lively, blessed and respectful.

“She is a very special person,” he said. “She’s a role model that is hard to follow.”