1. News
  2. /
  3. Tampa

New Tampa woman celebrates 107th birthday. Her secret? Enjoy yourself.

Frances Brassey celebrated the occasion at a New Tampa assisted living facility. Social health is key to living a long life, says a USF professor, just like physical and mental health.
Published Oct. 5
Updated Oct. 7

TAMPA — An hour before the guests were to arrive, before the cover singer set up his microphone and speakers, the birthday girl sat smiling in a twinkling pink tiara that matched her pink paisley print shirt and pants underneath this sign:

Happy 107th Birthday Frances!

Frances Brassey usually celebrates her centenarian birthdays with her 71-year-old son, Wayne. He visits her every week, takes her out to dinner and to get her hair done and plans her birthday parties. But this year he had to travel out of the country because of a family emergency.

So the Legacy at Highwoods Preserve, an assisted living facility for seniors in New Tampa, threw her a happy hour birthday party on Friday. All the residents were invited to celebrate.

“You’re almost old enough to be legal all over again, Frances,” said Ashley Gunter, the facility’s activity and lifestyle coordinator, as wine was poured for residents.

• • •

Brassey was born on Oct. 4, 1912 in Harlowton, Montana. It was almost six months after the Titanic sank in April 1912.

The course of her life touches two centuries of American history. She had a great uncle involved in the Louisiana Purchase and a great-grandfather who served in the Civil War. She had been a secretary and housewife her entire life, the staff said, but has traveled extensively, visiting Asia and South and Central America.

A photo of Frances Brassey and her husband Edward, taken in 1943, sits in her room at the Legacy at Highwoods Preserve in New Tampa. She celebrated her 107th birthday on Friday. [LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times]

Her room — No. 107 — is decorated with relics from China and photo albums chronicle the life she lived in California. She has a framed 1943 photo of her husband, Edward Brassey, two years after they married and four years before their son was born. The couple retired to Florida in the early 1980s, and her husband died later that decade.

Longevity runs in Frances Brassey’s genes, said Legacy community relations manager Daniela Oliva.

When she celebrated her 106th birthday last year, Brassey told guests her secret was drinking Coca-Cola every day.

• • •

The average life expectancy of a Hillsborough County resident is 78.9 years, according to the Department of Health.

Brassey is the oldest resident at the Legacy by more than a decade. The staff believes she may be the oldest person living in Tampa.

The average life expectancy has increased by about 30 years over the past 150 years, said University of South Florida professor Kathy Black, who studies aging at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

New Tampa resident Frances Brassey celebrates her 107th birthday at the Legacy at Highwoods Preserve on Friday. The staff believes she may be the oldest living resident in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times]

Life expectancies are on the rise because people are recognizing the importance of their own physical, mental and social health, she said. In Florida, older people are learning new languages, volunteering for new activities and getting better at staying engaged.

The alternative, Black said, is dangerous.

“Isolation is a serious killer today,” she said. “It’s a risk factor for mortality. It’s equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

Facilities like the Legacy provide that sense of community older populations need, Oliva said, as their social networks dwindle.

“Living is an opportunity,” she said.

• • •

Most days, Brassey wakes up around 7 a.m., takes part in morning stretches, watches the Hallmark Channel and Judge Mathis on TV, takes naps — and drinks Coke.

The other residents started filing into the lobby at about 3:30 p.m. for the party. There was cake and music. The singer, Ralph Espinosa, serenaded her with a slew Golden age hits from Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers and Bobby Vinton as staff members danced with residents.

Some days, Brassey doesn’t really speak. Some days she does.

Some days, such as on her 107th birthday, she just has to warm up.

“Where did you come from?” she asked the singer, laughing.

“She just gets happier and happier as the days go,” Oliva said.

Black said one doesn’t have to jump out of an airplane in their 90s to prove they’re aging well.

They just have to keep enjoying themselves.

“It’s about the quality of your life,” the professor said, “not just the quantity …”


  1. The David A. Straz Jr Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa was one of several buildings named for the philanthropist and banker. [DENNIS JOYCE   |   Times] DENNIS JOYCE  |  Tampa Bay Times (2018)
    The David A. Straz Jr Foundation donated more than $33 million to dozens of organizations in nearly 20 years
  2. Port Tampa Bay president and CEO Paul Anderson. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times (2017)]
    Port commissioners approved the raise after a year with milestone achievements on several fronts.
  3. David Straz and his wife Catherine at Karamu, the annual black-tie gala at ZooTampa in April. AMY SCHERZER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The future of Straz’s foundation remained unclear Tuesday. Meanwhile, police say Straz died of natural causes at a Citrus County waterfront home.
  4. David Straz Jr. passed away this week at age 77. JAMES BORCHUCK  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The retired banker supported causes from the arts to the zoo. Here’s a sampling of reaction to his death.
  5. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. TMCCARTY  |  times staff
    The driver’s injuries appear non-life threatening, and a suspect is in custody.
  6. Mango Plaza in Seffner has sold for $12.49 million. The plaza is anchored by a Publix and Walmart, making it attractive to a Baltimore investment firm. (Continental Realty Corporation)
    Mango Plaza’s new owners are based out of Baltimore.
  7. Philanthropist David Straz Jr. and his wife Catherine celebrate in March after he advanced into the Tampa mayoral run-off election. Mr. Straz has died at the age of 77. TAILYR IRVINE  |  Times
    The former mayoral candidate who lost to Tampa Mayor Jane Castor earlier this year, died Monday while on a fishing trip in Homosassa. His name, and legacy, are integral to Tampa.
  8. Check for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    The teens were waiting for a HART bus when they were struck by a vehicle involved in a chain-reaction crash, police said.
  9. The Jackson House in downtown Tampa in February. The historic building was a rooming home for African Americans including celebrities during the segregation era. On Monday, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik announced a $1 million gift toward its preservation. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    The gift from the Tampa Bay Lightning owner and his wife will help preserve the African American landmark in Tampa.
  10. Much work has been completed on the Selmon Extension project, but we still have a way to go before the construction and ongoing detours on Gandy Boulevard end by the projected fall 2020 completion date. MONIQUE WELCH  |  Monique Welch | Times
    The ongoing project along Gandy Boulevard began in February but still has a lot of work left before its projected fall 2020 completion date.