LA Times Obituary

"Marion B. Higgins, 112; Oldest Person in California
Lived During the Terms of 20 U.S. Presidents"

Jon Thurber, LA Times Senior Obituary Staff Writer, p. B13

March 4, 2006; Seal Beach, CA -- Marion Bigelow Higgins, the oldest person in California, whose life spanned the terms of 20 of the 43 presidents of the United States, died Thursday at her home at Leisure World in Seal Beach. She was 112.

Higgins had been in declining health for the last couple of months with congestive heart failure, according to her son Horace. "Her mind was sharp right up to the end," he said.

According to the Gerontology Research Group affiliated with UCLA, when Margaret "Madge" Russell died late last May at the age of 112, Higgins became the oldest living Californian. George Johnson of Richmond is now the state's most senior citizen. He is 111.

Higgins was a "poster girl" for an active lifestyle. At the age of 88, she participated in the 1981 Senior Olympics and took three gold medals in "the sprints." (She later admitted that she had few rivals in the [85 - 90] age bracket.) At 102, she self-published her life story and sold 1,000 copies. She was a rock and mineral hound and collected stamps well into her second century.

She was born June 26, 1893, in Williamsville, NY, a village outside Buffalo. Higgins was raised first on a farm in Maine and then on farms in Ohio, Michigan, and finally Idaho, where she graduated from high school. After graduation, she went to what is now the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, WA. She earned her Bachelor's Degree and a teaching credential there before taking a faculty job at a one-room schoolhouse in Cascade, ID.

She married John Higgins, who worked for a logging company, in 1918, and for the next ten years the family moved wherever the work was. She had her first child in 1919 and, while bearing and raising two more boys, continued to teach school. One of her sons was born with a deformed leg that made movement in the snow difficult, so in 1927 the family moved to Los Angeles for the weather. Her husband's parents and a brother were in Pomona, so that's where the family settled. Her husband got a job as a machinist. During World War II, she worked in the BF Goodrich plant in Pomona making de-icers for the tails of B-17 bombers. She recalled that the day of the Japanese surrender, a supervisor told all the women in the plant to clean up and go home. That was the end of her war work. She became a widow four years after the war ended, when her husband died of a heart attack. He was 60. She never remarried.

Her eldest son, John, died last May. In addition to her son Horace, 83, she is survived by another son, Robert of Laredo, TX; 9 grandchildren; 12 Great-grandchildren; and 15, Great-great-grandchildren.

She had a career with the Los Angeles County assessor's office from 1947 to 1963, when she was forced to retire at the age of 70. She began drawing Social Security checks during the first Eisenhower administration. In her retirement years, she sang with a choral group called the Ontario Oratorio for 15 years and delighted her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren with her ability to recite the alphabet backward and forward.

Her son Horace said that "at the age of 105 his mother started reciting poems she recalled from her childhood." "And," he said, "she remembered them flawlessly." She avoided doctors as much as possible and found that chiropractors generally could cure what ailed her. She ate and lived moderately and was active in her church. "I face every day one at a time, and I'm always learning something new," she told an LA Times reporter last year. "I'm just a slow learner."