By Theresa D. McClellan
For The Fort Bend Star
She loves fried catfish, drinks three cups of whole milk daily, eats her dessert first and uses her walker to visit with friends at the senior living center in Meadows Place.
Perhaps these are the secrets of longevity for 110-year-old Lillian Cox, who celebrated her milestone birthday with family and friends last month in her residence at the Hamptons at Meadow Place.
She received more than 350 birthday cards and an on-air birthday wish from television journalist Bill O’Reilly.
“Oh I do enjoy the cards,” said the silver-haired super-centenarian who turned 110 on Feb. 22.
“I don’t know how Bill O’Reilly found out. He said he doesn’t normally give out birthdays wishes but 110 is 110,” said her grand-daughter Alyson Smith.
A friend told them about the O’Reilly shout-out and Smith captured a recording during a replay of the show. Lillian Cox is no stranger to the media. The Florida native was interviewed by Barbara Walters 10 years ago for a segment on longevity when at the age of 100 she was still driving her car, cleaning her own house and gardening daily.
She drove her 1988 Cadillac Seville until she was 101 years old. She moved to Texas in 2011 to be closer to family living at the Hamptons, where she receives visits six days a week from her 64-year-old granddaughter Smith who lives nearby.
For her birthday celebration, family came from Texas and Florida and the Hamptons activities director recreated the dress shop Cox opened in Tallahassee in 1957. She maintained her business of fine fashions called “Lillian’s” which catered to college students, office workers and society ladies, until 1976. She sold her business and retired at 68 to travel the world.
“Her shop was downtown. She worked all Sundays. After church she walked over and went to work. There was never a day off,” said her granddaughter.
Does she miss her clothing store?
“Not really. It was time to give it up. There is such a thing as keeping something too long,” Cox said in her matter-of-fact way of speaking.
She was born Lillian Clarice Todd at home in 1907 in Quincy, Fla. She loved arithmetic in high school and when she was 16 she met the love of her life, Thomas Cox. They married when she turned 18 and had a long happy marriage in Tallahassee.
She outlived her husband and her daughter and never remarried, though she had many offers. When she sold her store at the age of 68 she travelled around the world visiting Europe and Hawaii where she became enamored with the colorful material she found there.
She brought back fabric from Hawaii where she created beautifully simple A-lined dresses with a long back zipper she could slip over her head and go. Her closet at the Hamptons held multiple samples of her dress creations.
While living in Tallahassee she served as a hostess at the governor’s mansion and held charm schools. She maintains her air of fashion dressing herself daily in her colorful dresses, pearls and her trademark upswept hair style.
Macular degeneration has changed her eyesight and her hearing is hampered, but she awakens early every morning engaging in senior living activities such as sing-alongs. She had three birthday cakes at her party and she blew out the candles by herself on her personal cake, said Smith.
Every Sunday after church, her family takes her out to the Live Oak Grill for friend catfish. Once the owner found out her age, they said her lunch is on us; she is never paying again.
Just because she likes glamour doesn’t mean Ms. Lillian doesn’t like to eat. Her granddaughter recalled she liked to eat a huge meal at 2 p.m. with a lot of water and whole milk. Then she wouldn’t eat the rest of the day. The whole milk keeps her strong.
“Thank the Lord, she’s taken a few tumbles and hasn’t broken anything,” Smith said.
Ms. Lillian also doesn’t take medicine. The worst thing she had to deal with was bladder cancer.
“She would never take medicine. You think about it, you take medicine X and it has all these side effects so you have to take medicine Y,” said the granddaughter.
Ms. Lillian has thoughts on that as well. Listen to your body.
“You don’t take everything,” explains Miss Lillian. “You eat when you hungry, sleep when you’re tired. Don’t turn it away, but don’t take everything either.”