Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province's longevity title lies ahead

Victoria resident will soon be oldest-ever Manitoba-born person

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The toughest thing about becoming the oldest person ever born in Manitoba? You keep losing good bridge partners.

That's what Lorna Best -- who has called Victoria, B.C., home for more than 30 years but was born and lived the first eight decades of her life in Gilbert Plains -- said on Tuesday as she talked about the highs and lows of her more than 110 years of life.

Best will be tied on Jan. 30 with the official oldest person ever to be born in Manitoba, Mary Ann Scoles, who died on July 23, 2007, at the age of 110 years and 210 days.

The next day, Best, who was born on July 4, 1903, will take over the title as the oldest person ever born here.

"I didn't know that," said Best during a telephone interview from the personal-care home she lives in now.

"It's news to me."

Best said at her age it's birthday celebrations and other family occasions that are the most memorable days, not where she ranks on the longevity list.

'I love to play cards, but it's hard to get bridge players so I usually play cribbage now. They (bridge players) "leave" me ' -- Lorna Best

Best was the first child born to Charles and Edra Warren in the family home in Gilbert Plains. She was later joined by four brothers and two sisters. Her father had moved from England to become a farmer, but after a few unsuccessful attempts, he decided to become the village's secretary-treasurer in 1921.

After Best's father died suddenly in 1925 of septicemia, also known as bacteremia or blood poisoning, she dropped out of Success Business College in Winnipeg to take over her father's position with the village.

Best continued working after she married husband Gilbert in 1928, but quit a year later after her daughter was born. Her husband, who owned a fire insurance brokerage business, took over her position. Their only other child, a son, was born in 1936.

Best's husband died in 1966, and she decided to move to Victoria in 1980 to be closer to some of her siblings who had moved there.

Best lived through two world wars, the first flight by a powered plane, the moon landing and numerous other milestones through 11 decades in two centuries. Sir Wilfred Laurier was prime minister and Theodore Roosevelt was president of the United States.

"I didn't get the (Spanish) flu in 1919, but I had a brother who got the flu -- he died of it," she said.

Best said she loves watching certain sports on television -- she loves the Toronto Blue Jays so much they sent her a cap and a letter -- as well as football, golf and curling.

"I just don't like hockey," she said. "It's too fast and too rough."

Best doesn't attribute her longevity to exercise, even though she played golf until she was in her early 80s. She said she keeps her mind active by reading the newspaper daily and playing card games.

"I love to play cards, but it's hard to get bridge players so I usually play cribbage now. They (bridge players) 'leave' me," she said, alluding to her age and the many friends who have died through the years.

"I had to live to be 100 to get a perfect 29 hand in cribbage," she added, chuckling.

Best said since leaving Manitoba she has only returned once -- for the anniversary of the Anglican church in Gilbert Plains in 1983.

Her 78-year-old son, Warren, said it's sad to know his mother has seen so many friends and family die through the years, but there's another way of looking at it.

"There's no peer pressure at her age," he said.

Warren said his mother's mind is still sharp, but she is a "little hard of hearing."

He said his mother has a birth certificate, but it went missing after they sent it in so she could have official greetings from Queen Elizabeth II when she turned 100.

"If we had to we could apply for another one, but why? We know how old she is."

Elizabeth Buhler, who died in Winkler a few days shy of 112 in 2011, may have been older than Best, but she could never officially be declared the oldest person to have ever lived in Manitoba because she spent her early years in Ukraine where her birth records were destroyed during the years Joseph Stalin was leader of the Soviet Union.

And Best is only a couple of weeks older than another former Manitoban -- Lois Leyda -- who was born here on July 19, 1903. She has lived in Washington, D.C., for decades and worked for several U.S. presidents, from Harry Truman to George H.W. Bush.

Currently, the oldest Canadian is Merle Barwis at 113 years, 29 days of age. She lives in British Columbia, but she was born in the United States. Flora Thibodeau is next on the list, at age 112 years, 307 days, and she was born and still lives in New Brunswick.

Besides her two children, Best now has six grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2014 B4

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