Julia Hawkins and I have a mutual friend, and after her death a few weeks ago, she asked me to take me to the memorial service.
But our story today will not be sad. At 105, Hawkins has learned to accept the death of his friends with a certain equanimity. One of the complications of living for more than a century is to outlive your contemporaries.
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Our trip to the memorial service took just under an hour. It took me a while to figure out the simple fact of a road trip with a 105 year old man. When I started working as a journalist over thirty years ago, the 100 years of local residents made the headlines.
Hitting 100 is always an important benchmark, although it is becoming more and more common. In 1950, according to research firm Statista, there were 33,899 people aged 100 or older in the world. By 2020, the figure had reached 573,423.
Even by century-old standards, Hawkins is a marvel, competing in racing events that have garnered national attention. She started running at the age of 100 after cycling got too difficult.
We often ask centenarians how they managed to live so long. But beyond the quantity of his life, Hawkins gives useful information on maximizing the quality of life.
A deep and lasting connection with nature seems to be part of his secret. When I arrived to pick her up for our morning together, she asked if we could visit her garden before hitting the road. She still lives in the Baton Rouge house that her late husband, Murray “Buddy” Hawkins, built. It’s on an acre lot, purchased in 1948, which includes 60 trees and a host of other treasures.
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Our first task was to remove a blanket that Hawkins had placed over a bromeliad the night before to protect it from freezing. She discovered the plant as if it were unveiling a work of art – a small gesture of revelation that shows how Hawkins lives. She even views the little things with wonder.
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Back in his house, Hawkins showed me his jug. âIt’s my pride and joy,â she told me, picking up one of the hollow leaves that allow the plant to trap insects. As we strapped in for the ride, Hawkins pointed out his ginkgo, known for its brilliant fall foliage. âIt’s beautiful,â she said.
Hawkins also remains committed by embracing causes that spark her passion. Recently, she has been trying to get more people interested in the legacy of Margaret Stones, an Australian botanical artist who made beautiful images of the flora of Louisiana. Hawkins befriended Stones during his visits to the state.
Like Stones, who died in 2018, Hawkins is deeply curious, which has kept his long life interesting. âHave a lot of passions,â Hawkins told The New York Times. “And look for some magical moments.”
If there’s one better piece of advice to keep in the New Year, I haven’t found it.