At the age of 106, Frances Byers’ mind remains sharp, but she has so many descendants that she has to think carefully about who’s who.
Just last year, another three great-great-grandchildren were born. That generation and the two that preceded them now number 111.
“I have to stop and think, ‘Which one belongs to which?’” she said with a laugh. In general, “people and places come back to me really well … it’s just the dates of some things I can’t keep in my mind.”
Byers was born in Montpelier, in Hanover County, in 1915. She lived as a child in Ashland, leaving school during the Great Depression in the 1930s to work as a seamstress at Ashland Laundry. She used the skills she learned there to make clothes for her family and others in her neighborhood.
“I would have liked to have gone back to school, but I was married when I was 17,” she said. “Ladies in those days stayed home and did the work.”
Byers is the last living charter member of Emmanuel Holiness Church in Bumpass, established in 1939. She served as deaconess, missionary secretary, and Sunday School teacher for more than 80 years, and currently leads a Bible study in her home each Thursday morning.
In 1950, Byers and husband John purchased a farm in eastern Louisa, where she still lives. Prior to that time they worked for a number of landowners as tenant farmers. The couple raised seven children, including former Louisa County Supervisor Dan Byers.
Besides farmwork and raising children, Byers made a point of helping others in the community.
“We’d clean houses when people were sick, and the men would get together to kill a hog,” she recalled. “If someone needed something, we did what we could. It was, ‘You help me and I help you.’ The farmers kept it together.”
After her husband died in 1973, Byers learned how to drive and returned to work at Ashland Laundry. Later she began to volunteer at the Ashland Convalescent Center. She kept driving until age 99, with only one fender-bender on her record, she said.
Much has changed in society over the years, and not all for the better, Byers argues, citing the increasingly common practice of couples having children prior to marriage.
Byers attributes her long life and mental alertness to reading her Bible each day, hard work, eating food produced on the farm, never using tobacco or alcohol, living by the Golden Rule and obeying the 10 commandments.
In 2020, about 100 family and friends gathered at a local church to wish Byers a happy birthday. But when she turned 106 last month, they drove by her home as she watched from a window.