For a 99-year-old woman, Francis Byers still gets in some pretty good one-liners.
You call it a walker? “I call it my Ferrari.” The Bumpass house that her son built for her to live in? “I live rent free!” Her one talent? “Chin music! I can’t play music and I can’t sing. I was born to talk.”
Byers may have just celebrated her 99th birthday on Saturday, Jan. 25, but with her quick wit intact, she might as well be 19.
“What has kept her young is the fact that she stays active and her mind stays alert,” her son, Daniel, said. “For 99, she has remained quite alert.”
Byers’ four surviving children, Adeline Albert, Doris Allen, Daniel and John Franklin Byers, held a party at Hopeful Baptist Church on their matriarch’s birthday to laugh, love and honor the woman who they unanimously label an inspiration.
“That word has really resonated with people,” Daniel Byers said. “She’s an inspiration, and she’s been quite an example for a lot of people.”
Born in Hanover in 1915 as the fourth of eight children of Hugh and Mae West, Byers has lived in or near the Bumpass area for nearly all of her life. She still remembers her days in the two-room schoolhouse she attended in nearby Scotchtown. She still gets teary-eyed thinking of the day she witnessed World War I soldiers march down the road beside her house after returning from their drills.
She also remembers to frequently mention whom she credits for her longevity and alert mind.
“The Lord has blessed me, that’s my secret,” Byers said. “He blessed me in many more ways that I deserve.”
It’s a folksy, ecclesiastical charm that Byers’ developed while serving as a farm mother for most of her life. Married to her husband John Franklin Byers in 1932 at the age of 17, Byers spent many days working on the family’s 200-acre farm, tending to livestock and mending clothes as long as the sun was shining. When her husband had a heart attack at a young age – he passed away in 1973 – Byers developed a headstrong, get-it-done attitude that lasts to this day.
“She did everything to ensure that we were able to have what we needed in life,” Daniel said.
To read the entire story, see the Feb. 6 edition of The Central Virginian.