1/23/2024 | By Kari Smith

For the vibrant Lily Mae Ashman Byrd, Nov. 28, 2023, was the day she became a centenarian. Living to see one’s 100th birthday is quite the accomplishment, and Lily has accomplished it with grace, positivity, and plenty of adventure.

A quick review of 100 full years

Born in 1923 in Chula, a rural community in northeast Amelia County, Virginia, Lily lived there until she married. Just about a month after graduating from Amelia High School on June 5, she married the love of her life, Randolph Byrd, on July 13, 1941. He was “the best thing that ever happened to me,” she told me. He died on Feb. 11, 2003, after 62 years of marriage. She is the matriarch of their three children, 11 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and an impressive four great-great grandchildren. Lily Mae is the sole surviving member of her immediate family, including five brothers and two sisters.

Lily Mae’s joy continues

I visited Lily Mae at her home to share her story and her secret to longevity with Seniors Guide readers.

I discovered that Lily starts each day with “let’s go look for the joy.” She also brings the joy by waving to all who drive by her home of 76 years, earning the nickname of “mayor” among locals. She can also be found greeting everyone she meets with her signature smile, and she has a special place in her heart for babies.

Lily Mae Ashburn Byrd

She enjoys reading but stays incredibly active, too. She goes outside almost daily to exercise and walk and enjoys having lunch with friends and family, handing out small crosses wherever she goes. She loves animals and spending time on the farm – whether it’s her family’s farm in Amelia, or Hanover Vegetable Farm, where she visits the market to pick up jellies and fresh vegetable farm, or friends’ farms, where she visits goats, horses, chickens, ducks, and dogs. From manicures and dance movement therapy to Hobby Lobby and Goodwill trips, Lily Mae has no problem getting around town with her caregiver, Karen, a certified nursing assistant whom she has dubbed “Sassy.”

Lily Mae is a lifetime homemaker, and puts her love and passion into her family and her church, Jahnke Road Baptist Church. Her faith is a huge part of her life, she told me, adding, “What has extended my life is knowing the Lord. I’m grateful that I can still witness and share my love of the Lord and how He keeps me on my feet.” She shares her favorite Bible verse, Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight” (New International Version). She was a founding member and one of the first deacons of the church, and she is the last surviving charter member.

Lily Mae Ashman Byrd offers some advice for aging gracefully. She tells me that once you hit 75, her best advice is to get up and move every day. I’m thinking it may be in the butter pecan ice cream cone she eats daily, and I may need to experiment with that one.

Related: Live Longer, Live with Purpose

Kari Smith

Kari Smith is a frequent contributor to Seniors Guide, helping to keep those in the senior industry informed and up-to-date. She's a Virginia native whose love of writing began as a songwriter recording her own music. In addition to teaching music and performing in the Richmond area, Kari also enjoys riding horses and farming.

Kari Smith