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Sister Andre

Earlier this month, Lucile Randon passed away in her sleep at her home in Toulon, France. Her passing made world news, because she was 118 years, 340 days old. Born in France in 1904, Randon entered the order of the Daughters of Charity in 1944. She chose the name Sister Andre, in honor of her older brother. She spent the next sixty-five years caring for orphans and older adults in hospitals and care homes. She retired at age 100, but remained active, even as her eyesight failed. She gave interviews as recently as 2022. When asked about her secret to her longevity, Sister Andrea credited a daily glass of wine and piece of chocolate.

She was a survivor of World War I and World War II. She was also the oldest documented survivor of COVID, having contracted the disease at age 117. Her status as a “supercentenarian” made her something of a celebrity, but she wasn’t unique. Until 2017, she wasn’t even the oldest living person in France. Randon’s status as the “oldest living person” came in April of last year, with the passing of Kane Tanaka. At her death, Sister Andre was the fourth longest-living person, ever.

Supercentenarians, individuals who have lived for 110 years or more, are a source of fascination in popular culture.  Mere longevity is part of it; the perspective of a person who has seen two centuries, lived among five generations, and held connections to people, places and events beyond the living memory of anyone else are all equally intriguing. These “eldest of elders” are sometimes attributed mystical properties. Interviews are sprinkled with questions about the person’s secret to a long life, purpose and perspective. So what is the secret of a long and happy life?

Wikipedia maintains a list of the longest-lived people, and oldest living people. Does a review of both lists offer any insights on longevity? Perhaps.

Reviewing the list of Oldest Living People suggests. . .

  • It helps to be female. All but four of the fifty oldest people alive today are women.
  • Stay active in retirement. Thumbnail biographies of supercentenarians often include a question about current habits and routines. Fusa Tatsumi did gymnastics and applied her own makeup. Maria Branyas “took up sewing, music and reading.” Kane Tanaka practiced calligraphy and solved mathematical puzzles.
  • Don’t retire too soon. One of the common themes across the life stories of the people on this list is that they continued their vocations long past the age of 65. Maybe not full time, or maybe at some reduced level of effort, but they continued to work. The kind of work varies—teachers, nurses, store clerks, farmers. But work is both activity and identity for many.
  • Maintain community connections. The supercentenarians may have outlived their contemporaries, but their stories include relationships with intergenerational family members, neighbors, faith communities and others. They were not alone.
  • Practice healthy habits. The biographies often include mention of a diet or exercise regimen. Walking regularly, eating sensibly. And, it’s never too late to start. Marie-Louise Meilleur gave up smoking at age 102.

While many attribute their longevity to healthy habits, there are great variations in opinions about what those health habits are. Sister Andre enjoyed a glass of wine. Juan Vicente Perez, the world’s current oldest living man, has a daily glass of aguardiente. But Maria Branyas is a teetotaler. If you were hoping the secret to long life was connected to coffee, bourbon or candy bars, there is somebody out there who will agree with you, but it’s probably not your doctor, dietician or physical therapist.

Most of us won’t reach the status of supercentenarians. But longevity is increasing. Advances in medicine and preventative health care, as well as efforts to improve air and water quality, promote safety and reduce accidents and injury have contributed to doubling of the average lifespan since 1920. Quality of life, not just quantity, is what matters. The lives, and life stories, of these remarkable people have much to tell us about our own lives. And how we live them.


Learn more about how science and advocacy have affected longevity by reading How Humanity Gave Itself and Extra Life: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/27/magazine/global-life-span.html

Blue Zones are areas around the globe where “people live better, longer” and are ten times as likely to reach age 100. The Blue Zones Project explores the impact of community on health and well-being, and how to support people in their effort to “live longer, healthier, happier lives.” https://info.bluezonesproject.com/home