BRANDON – Dorothy Perry of Brandon loves to tinker in her garden and rev up the chainsaw to trim her trees.
Last year – when she turned 99 – her son, Benjamin F. (Ben) Perry IV of Valrico, convinced her to let him take over the trimming and mowing. About the same time, she decided to stop driving.
On Dec. 15, Perry turned 100.
“I have no idea what the secret to her long life is,” Ben Perry mused. “Maybe she would say it’s the small glass of wine she has every night after dinner.”
Her father, an engineer who helped work on the Brooklyn Bridge and Ohio River dams, moved the family to South America in 1917 for a dam-building project, when Perry was 4 years old. They lived there about five years.
“She has a photo of their house, built on stilts, with stairs that were pulled up at night to keep the tigers [sic] out,” said her son.
Perry, the oldest of five children, grew up in West Virginia. She competed on her high school swimming and basketball teams, even though she was only 5-feet-1-inch tall.
She married Benjamin F. Perry III and they had one son. She still lives in the home they built when they moved to Brandon in 1959, the year her son started his junior year at Brandon High School.
For about 30 years, she sewed Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls and four other dolls she named after her three grandchildren and one of her four great-grandchildren. She sold them at consignment shops in New England.
She has been a member of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church in Valrico since 1959. She played tennis for fun, drew, painted and had a kiln to create ceramics. Nowadays she gardens, cooks, does her own housework and hangs out the laundry to dry.
The hardest part of her becoming a centenarian is the loss of peers, said Ben Perry. Her husband died about 13 years ago, her siblings have passed away and her two friends still alive have moved into nursing homes.
“It’s hard to make friends at that age,” said her son, grateful that neighbors help him watch out for her.
One neighbor, Jan Milner, commemorated Perry’s 100th birthday by asking Anne Rost of Clearwater to design a large, homemade birthday card. It is pink with butterflies and lace, contains Rost’s four-stanza ode to Perry and measures 18-inches by 14-inches. Milner collected signatures on it from 50 neighbors and delivered it to Perry on her special day.
“Mom’s great,” said Perry’s son. “She’s in good health and has lived a good life – and she’s still doing it!”
Send news of community interest to Barbara Routen at Neighbors@tampabay.rr.com.