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My Grandfather, Harry

July 01, 2009 by Victoria Strong
My grandfather, Harry Reese Gillespie, is the most remarkable person I have ever known. At 104, he has lived through every major event and been witness to every new invention in the 20th century. But it is not his age that impresses me (although 104 is pretty darn impressive); it is the way in which he has lived those years. He is honest, kind, dependable, and witty. He has an incredible zest for life -- a quality I also see in Gwendolyn. He has a contagious optimism and possesses the ability to find the good or some sort of positive angle in almost anything. He has been through enormous losses and hurdles in his life and yet he faces them with dignity and perseverance. Even in his latest battle with skin cancer earlier this year, he continues to be a remarkable example of how to face adversity. He has lived a life of service to his family and his community and has a keen sense of altruism. He was absolutely devoted to my grandmother, Madge, from the moment they met as teenagers until her death after 67 years of marriage and found great joy in making her happy. He now does the same for my lovely step-grandmother, Edna Earl. Harry continually inspires me and has an impact on anyone he meets.

Secrets of Longevity:
Positive Attitude -- Harry epitomizes, Dont sweat the small stuff.

Sense of Fun
-- Harry finds humor and fun in daily life and gravitates toward others with this same philosophy. He likes to be around young folks for this reason (although young to Harry now is anyone under 80).

Goals -- Harry always plans things in the future to look forward to. He has never once said, Thats it, Ive seen and done it all. Instead, his attitude is, There is always more to be done. In fact, he is already looking forward to 105!

Love of Learning -- Harry reads the paper from cover to cover every day, he loved reading history books when his eyesight was better, and traveled until he was 95. He always asks questions about things he doesnt know or understand and is not intimidated by new technology or advances. He doesnt use the Internet, but he doesnt dismiss it either.

Sense of Service -- Harry has always preferred to give back to others, rather than receive help. He is one of the oldest living and oldest members of Rotary International, joining this volunteer organization in the 1920s, and he still attends weekly meetings. He held a variety of leadership roles in the club until he was in his 90s. Harry was also an active player in the Guinness Book of World Records longest-running melodrama, Gold in the Hills, volunteering to play the role of Father for over 30 years. He served as President of the Little Theater and was Manager of Cedar Grove, a historic antebellum home, which gave guided costumed historic tours to the public. He has also always been active in the Presbyterian Church.

Exercise -- Harrys first job was as the youth physical fitness instructor at the YMCA when he was 18. He has never been a fitness fanatic, but always made moderate exercise part of his daily life. When I was little he and my grandmother always took an evening stroll and he used to wear army boots for his nightly leg lifts and sit ups. Even now he does modified stretches to keep limber.

Healthy Ounce of Pride -- Harry cant stand when people dismiss him because he is old and makes sure to give them a strong handshake so they know Im not dead.

Ice Cream -- Harry has a bowl of ice cream almost every night -- I follow his lead on this smile

Fun Facts:
When Harry was a little boy, he helped his dad in the General Store by delivering toilet paper in brown bags to peoples homes (they were too embarrassed to buy this new item in public.) Harry's first car was a 1913 Model T Ford, which had a crank to start the engine. He remembers seeing Buffalo Bill perform in the Wild Bill Cody Show, fringed leather jacket and all. He also remembers the first electric bulb and when indoor plumbing first arrived in Texas. Harry trained as an opera singer and performed throughout Texas until a house fire destroyed everything he owned and the Great Depression hit. Harry still lives in his own home. Harry chose to give up driving when he turned 100, but he still has his car and drivers license just in case.

I love you Harry!!! And cant wait to see you sooooooon!!! We are on our way!
Mimi and Harry 50th Anniversary

Harry (in his 90s) and Edna Earl on trip to Panama Canal

Harry and me with the flag that hung over the Texas State Capitol to mark his 100th

Talk About It

[...] is a post I wrote in 2009 about who he is and why he is so special. And below is a video of when we drove 5,000 miles in an RV from California to Mississippi to [...]
Posted by Grandpa Harry: June 27, 1905 – March 30, 2011 Gwendolyn Strong | Gwendolyn Strong on 2011-04-01 07:04:05
Hey, Harry came to Panama! Cool!
Posted by Marcela Vallarino on 2011-04-01 10:35:51

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