Marion Broadaway has a hair appointment every week. This Friday afternoon, a pink and silver crown with the number 100 bedazzled in rhinestones topped her freshly curled gray hair.
Broadaway, a Gainesville resident, smiled as she took a bite of banana nut cake – her favorite flavor. Wearing a striped sweater and a pink and black birthday sash, she celebrated a century of life surrounded by friends and family.
“It’s a very special day,” Broadaway said. “I feel like the day is special, not me.”
Broadaway’s family and friends gathered around and pushed her wheelchair toward a white outdoor tent set up at the Oak Hammock Health Pavilion, the retirement community where she lives.
Pink and gold balloons filled the inside of the tent, and a big cake decorated with red and pink roses and shaped into the number 100 sat on a table.
“When I look back, I think I had a very exciting life. I enjoyed my life,” she said.
Joining the world’s less than 1% centenarian population, Broadaway lived through World War II, the moon landing and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s seen television, computers and the Internet advance, but her favorite innovation is Zoom because she can call people anywhere in the world.
“It's amazing that you can call something here and call all the way to Europe from Gainesville,” she said.
The past year during the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult on Broadaway and her family. Her daughter, 66-year-old Becky Adkins, said she didn’t see her mother in person for months.
“It's been pretty tough. She doesn't verbalize it so much,” Adkins said. “She's just one of these people who takes things in stride.”
Broadaway’s lifelong pastime was writing cards and letters. Growing up, she had penpals in Egypt and Japan, and she wrote to her husband every day during World War II.
“She used to show me postcards she had from them, like the Egypt one, of course, had the pyramids,” Adkins said. “It was very much a part of her life. She wrote voluminously in terms of corresponding with her family.”
Born Feb. 5, 1921, and raised in Massachusetts with the maiden name Dempsey Broadaway is the second of six children. She attended Blue Mountain College, a women’s school in Mississippi, where she studied English and met her late husband Rufus Broadaway, a Mississippi native.
“He was the romantic southerner that she was looking for,” Adkins said.
Together they had three children, daughters Judith and Becky and son Dana. She is now a great-grandmother with four grandchildren and two great-grandsons.
Reflecting on her life, she said one of the hardest things she went through was the loss of her child. Broadaway’s daughter Judith died in a motorcycle accident shortly before she would have graduated from college.
Rufus, who died in 2016 at the age of 95, was drafted into World War II where he served as a paratrooper. He jumped into Normandy on D-day, she said. After the war in 1945, Rufus reunited with Broadaway and Judith.
Broadaway spent the majority of her adulthood living in Miami on an acre of property containing a big single-story ranch house. Her husband worked as a surgeon after he left the military. She spent her days taking care of her family and tending to the 25 mango trees on their property. Adkins said her mother would often make mango chutney, a tangy and sweet sauce.
Broadaway is a talented musician and played the piano all her life. She has a baby grand piano with ivory keys.
“My mom played beautifully. She loved to play Chopin and Debussy, really kind of the romantic, very just beautiful stuff,” Adkins said. “She could tickle those ivories.”
Adkins, who now owns the piano, said she also played it in her youth and often used the piano to get out of doing chores.
“My mom would say, you know, if you want to practice the piano, you don't have [to] help with dinner,” she said. “I still play, not very often, but I think of my mom pretty much whenever I do play,” Adkins said.
After Miami, the family relocated to Highlands, North Carolina, for about 10 years. In 2004, she and her husband moved to Gainesville’s Oak Hammock community.
In her younger years, Broadaway and her husband enjoyed traveling. They walked across England and took memorable trips to the base camp of Mount Everest.
After Broadaway’s century of life, she said she urges younger generations to take advantage of anything that comes along.
“If everyone were like my mom, the world would be a much happier place,” Dana said.
Contact Michelle Holder at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @michellecholder.
Michelle Holder is a second-year journalism student at UF minoring in entrepreneurship and a Metro reporter at The Alligator. She is from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. In her free time she enjoys going to coffee shops and reading.