Detroiter at 100 says secret to long life is moderation

Kyla Smith The Detroit News

Vivian McLaughlin remembers photographing Eleanor Roosevelt at a photography studio she owned with her late husband at Grand River and Joy in Detroit.

“I didn’t realize it was a big deal until I got older. Anyone that was someone in Michigan, we have taken their photo,” McLaughlin said looking back on some of the key events of her life as she turned 100. “A few photography companies called wanting the original proofs from all of my photos, but I don’t want to part ways with them.”

“We also had a photo studio and a dark room in the basement of this house,” McLaughlin said of the home off Woodward where she has lived for 70 years. “After my husband died, I left everything in the dark room the same way he left it.”

Dressed in a short-sleeve navy blue and white polka dot button down shirt and sporting a head full of white wavy hair, she chatted excitedly about the highlights of her life as she became one of Metro Detroit's centenarians Monday.

“The key to long life is doing everything in moderation, not to worry and don’t give up on anything that you start,” McLaughlin said. “I’m always watching CNN. I keep up with the times. I still eat cake and I always do what I want.”

Living in the same house for close to seven decades on Atkinson, McLaughlin was 10 when she moved to Detroit with her mother from Illinois after her father died.

“My mother’s brother already lived here and he wanted us to be closer to family,” she said. “When I got here, I just really took a liking to the city and Detroit has treated me well.”

In the past century, McLaughlin remembers when the Ford Model T was $400 and when airplane flights became commercial. She marvels at information that is available on phones and digital cameras.

The supermarket, the toggle light switch and the hamburger bun were all invented the same year McLaughlin was born in 1916.

“I have been here long enough to see many firsts,” McLaughlin said. “One thing I wasn’t surprised about was the first black president. I already knew I would live to see that.”

In the past decade, the number of people in the United States living 100 years or longer increased to 72,197 from 50,281 in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 2010 U.S. Census identified about 1,700 centenarians in Michigan.

In 2015, Jeralean Talley of Inkster was documented as the world’s oldest person by the Gerontology Research Group, a California-based organization that keeps track of the longest-living people in the world. Talley lived to be 116, before passing last June.

When McLaughlin decided to move into to the house on Atkinson, the closeness of Woodward is what initially drew her.

“In the past, I was able to walk out of the front door and straight to Woodward. There was no freeway or anything like that,” McLaughlin said. “The neighborhood has changed quite a bit. It was really nice when we moved in and then there was a period when it went down and now it’s back nice again.”

McLaughlin married Edward McLaughlin in 1943 and was married for 26 years until his death in 1969. They had one son, who passed away in 2004. Her grandson and 13-year-old great-granddaughter still live with her.

Once a year, McLaughlin’s daughter-in-law, Camelia McLaughlin, visits from Vidalia, Georgia, and stays with her for two months or more.

“It’s amazing that she still has the ability to cook and live on her own,” Camelia McLaughlin said. “She is such a wise woman and has so much to give. She is always doing something for someone.”

Before becoming a photographer, McLaughlin was an adult education teacher for Detroit Public Schools for 10 years, teaching sewing classes. In her spare time, she still makes clothing alterations for her customers.

Zanthia Boyd Kesselly called her great great-aunt to ask about their family history and she was still impressed with all of the information McLaughlin was able to give her.

“My aunt is the most fascinating person I know. In our family she serves as the family historian,” said Boyd Kesselly who now lives in South Carolina. “When I speak to her on the phone she is still sharp as a whip and can run everything down.”

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Twitter: @kylasmith525