A Georgia centenarian is celebrating a rare feat, turning 109 years old. Relda Mackins has traveled to several countries, run her own business and developed a lifelong reputation for always helping others, and now she is sharing her secrets to living a long, healthy life.
“Mama never drink, mama never smoked, in fact, I was going through pictures for the reunion, and I saw her with a glass and she had a cigarette in one hand and I asked, mama what was this about, and she said, ‘Yeah it was for the camera,’ ” Karen Green, 71, said of her 109-year-old mother’s healthy lifestyle.
“How does it feel to be turning 109 years old?” Green asked her mother, Relda Mackins. “I guess it feels good; I’ve never been here before,” replied Mackins.
Mackins rides her 35-year-old stationary bike three times a day and walks on her treadmill regularly, according to her daughter and caregiver, Karen Green, who is planning a celebration for her mother’s milestone birthday.
Mackins was born on Aug. 7, 1913, in Jellico, Tennessee, a little more than a year after the Titanic sank; and she has lived to see 19 U.S. presidents. She was raised in Kentucky, then moved to the small town of Jackson, Michigan, about 80 miles west of Detroit. She met her husband, Henry, and later raised their daughter Karen while in Michigan, where she spent most of her adult life.
Mackins ran her own beauty shop out of her home from 1945 to 1975; it’s a feat her daughter admits she didn’t fully appreciate until later in life: a Black woman owning her own business at a time when racial tensions were still running high in America.
“Growing up, I remember, when the last customers left, it was time for me to sweep the floor, get the towels clean, and actually put everything in to be sterilized for the next day,” said Green, reflecting on her mom’s business.
Green says, at 61 years old, Mackins retired from her beauty shop and began volunteering at a local hospital in Jackson, Michigan, because her mom could not sit still and desired helping others. Mackins’ time volunteering at the hospital lasted from 1975 to 2005.
“She volunteered, and she worked in the pediatric department; it was the babies she worked with,” Green said.
“After retirement, she went into volunteering because she just couldn’t sit, my dad would fish, my dad would hunt and she just sat there and thought, ‘No, I’ve got to do something,’ ” Green said.
By age 91, Green asked her parents to move closer to her in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. Mackins and her husband moved in 2005, and after Mackins’ husband died on March 23, 2007, the centenarian gained a new sense of self-worth by helping her neighbors in her community.
Always willing to lend a helping hand, she gained the nickname Honey Bea, short for her middle name Beatrice and because, Green says, her mother was always buzzing around helping her neighbors with cooking, baking, cleaning and laundry.
“She kind of adopted everyone in the residence where they were staying, even though they were also her junior, by many years; a lot of them were like my age,” Green said.
Green says when her mom isn’t riding her stationary bike or helping others she’s on the move because she likes to travel. “She travels by train, plane, boat, bus; she likes to travel still,” said Green.
She adds that Mackins has been to different parts of the Caribbean, across the United States and as far away as Jerusalem, where she was once baptized.
Mackins takes daily vitamins, a baby aspirin and some medication for dementia, which even surprises her doctors, according to her daughter. Green admits keeping up with her active mother can be challenging at times, especially when traveling because Mackins usually chooses to walk herself rather than use a wheelchair.
Despite the occasional challenges, Green says she is appreciative others are getting to see what she’s had the chance to experience all her life, how much of a gift her mother is.
“She often says, ‘You would think I’m a celebrity,’ and I would say, ‘in your own right, Ma, you are. You don’t know how many people’s lives you’ve touched by just doing what you do naturally,’ ” Green said of a frequent exchange she has with her mom.
When asked what’s her secret to living a long and healthy life, Mackins doesn’t point to her daily bike rides, walks on her treadmill or even her clean eating and drinking habits over the years; instead, Mackins credits Jesus Christ or, as she calls him, J.C.
“You have to ask J.C. about that,” Mackins said with a smile when asked for her secret to a long life.
“She just says, ‘Ask JC because I don’t know why I’m here,’ and I say ‘because you’re an inspiration; He’s now inspiring people through you, and when he says okay, you’ve done it,’ it’s going to be time to go but until then just keep doing what you’re doing,” said Green.
Mackins is a mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunt and great aunt. She has three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Green says the Atlanta Braves baseball team and the White House are sending Mackins specially signed birthday cards to cap off a birthday celebration her church, Antioch A.M.E. Church in Stone Mountain, has set for the 109-year-old.