Lifetime of hard work kept Old Ford centenarian moving

Published 5:25 pm Monday, March 9, 2020

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OLD FORD — When Willie Esther “Bill” Douglas was born in Old Ford on March 5, 1920, Beaufort County was a much different place. Her roots run deep here — she’s spent all her life living in Old Ford, and on Sunday, her congregation at Old Ford Church of Christ threw her a big party to celebrate 100 years on earth.

“Everybody knows me as Bill,” Douglas said, though she’s not sure where the nickname came from. “I have no idea.”

The daughter of Arthur A. and Cora Swanner Moore, she was one of 11 children, right in the middle of eight sisters and two brothers. She’s the last of her generation in the family and remembers working hard on the farm alongside the rest of her family, growing tobacco, cotton, peanuts and corn.

BIG FAMILY: The middle child of 11 siblings, Miss Bill worked hard alongside her brothers and sisters to tend the family farm in Old Ford, growing tobacco, cotton, peanuts and corn. From then to now, she says there’s been tremendous changes in the way local farmers grow their crops. (Matt Debnam/Daily News)

he attended school at Old Ford School up until the ninth grade, walking two miles every day. She was taught by Annie Hodges, the sole teacher at the school, before going to Washington to finish out her high school education.

She’s also been a member of Old Ford Church of Christ her entire life, and says she remembers walking up the road to attend services on Sundays.

After graduating high school, she continued in the agricultural field. For 43 years, she served as a counter clerk with Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service, the precursor to today’s Farm Service Agency. At one time, she was serving 3,200 farmers in Beaufort County.

“Farmers would go up there and tell what kind of crops, how many acres they planted, and then get tobacco cards to sell the tobacco on,” she recalled. “You had to report what you planted and how many acres you planted. You couldn’t plant but so many acres of tobacco.”

After she retired from her long career with ASCS, she kept on working. Going back to the farm, she went to work alongside her brother, William Rochelle Moore. But things didn’t go exactly according to plan.

“He fired me,” she recalled. “Because I was working him too hard.”

“All the crew was going to quit,” her nephew, Billy Moore, added with a laugh. “They went to Daddy and said, ‘She’s working us too hard, won’t let us take a break. Either she goes or we go.’ So he had to fire his own sister.”

While Miss Bill’s work ethic may have been too much for the men working on the farm, she believe it is what’s kept her going all these years. She says she doesn’t do anything in the way of exercise, and her diet consists of lots of sugary sweets.

CENTENARIAN: Born March 5, 1920, in the Old Ford Community, Willie Esther “Bill” Douglas is still going strong after 100 years, living on her own and working in her yard. She says that a lifetime of working hard has been the key to her longevity. (Pamela Sheldon)

Yet, at age 100, she still lives on her own and enjoys gardening and working in her yard. She’s active and says she feels as good after a century as she did at 16, aside from her legs being sore.

“I think I’m the only one that’s lived to be 100 in Old Ford,” she said. “Nobody else has been that old. It’s hard work. You’ve got to keep going.”

To the younger generation, she advises the same. Get out and go to work, and you too might live to see 100 years, just like Miss Bill has.