BERRYVILLE — Viola Brown smiled and her eyes twinkled brightly Monday when she came out onto the front porch of her Josephine Street home and saw a small crowd of people waiting to celebrate her 110th birthday.
“They make such a great fuss,” Brown said as friends, family, caregivers and political officials stepped up to hold her delicate hands and wish her a happy birthday.
It wasn’t just Berryville that made a fuss. National broadcast networks ABC and CBS had been in touch earlier in the day to do a story about Brown officially becoming a supercentenarian — a person who has reached the age of 110.
Brown was born on Oct. 4, 1911, nearly three years before the start of World War I and 28 years before a second world war created the need to number the conflicts. A mere eight years had passed since the world’s first airplane flight, but another 50 years would pass before humans flew into space.
Despite her enviable age, Brown is far from being the oldest living person in the world. That distinction goes to 118-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan. But now that Brown is a supercentenarian, she has joined one of the most exclusive clubs in existence. The Gerontology Research Group — an association that tracks the oldest living people on Earth — reported on Sept. 20 that 18 people alive around the world have been validated as being age 110 or older.
The first seven years of her life were spent in Hume, a small community in Fauquier County. Her family — parents James and Maria Roberts plus 12 brothers and sisters — then moved to Clarke County so the brood could work for the Clagett family at Springfield Farm.
Brown moved to Josephine Street in Berryville after marrying her first husband, John Lampkin, in 1936. The couple had two children, one of whom has since passed, and lived in a home her husband built using part of an old livery stable.
Lampkin died in 1982. Six years later, his widow married the Rev. Paul Brown. She was with him until he died in 1998.
For most of the past 23 years, Viola Brown has been on her own in the Josephine Street house Lampkin built, enjoying frequent visits from friends and family including eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and three great-great-grandchildren. Her daughter, 79-year-old Vonceil Hill of Winchester, has lived with Brown full-time since last year when the supercentenarian became too frail to walk under her own power.
“She’s getting feisty in her old age,” Hill said with a chuckle.
Brown’s visitors on Monday included Clarke County Board of Supervisors Chairman David Weiss, who presented her with a framed document proclaiming Oct. 4, 2021, as “Viola Roberts Lampkin Brown Day.”
“This is officially your day,” Weiss said.
“Every day that the good lord lets me stay here is my day,” Brown replied.
Caregivers from Blue Ridge Hospice in Winchester were also on hand to sing “Happy Birthday” as Brown blew out the candles on her cake with a little help from Hill. The caregivers then presented Brown with flowers and a quilt specially made for her by hospice volunteers.
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Brown said as they placed the handmade quilt on her lap. She then admired the vase of flowers and remarked, “These are pretty. I love flowers.”
After about 30 minutes, the party began to wind down. Attendees walked up to Brown one at a time and again wished her a happy birthday, speaking as loudly as possible to overcome her severe hearing loss.
“Thanks for coming,” Brown told them before heading back inside her house to enjoy a slice of birthday cake. “Every day’s a good day. The lord’s been really good to me.”