Lessie Smithgall turns 110 on April 1.
Let that sink in — 110. She’s survived two global pandemics that killed hundreds of thousands of Americans.
When the 1918 flu pandemic hit her home, there was no vaccine — only aspirin.
The Times co-founder has a few wishes to mark her big birthday, one being that everyone can get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Hers is a unique perspective having lived through the 1918 flu, which killed about 675,000 Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 has so far killed 546,704 in America.
“I think medicine is a miracle,” Smithgall said in a short interview conducted by her executive assistant Lianne R. Daniel on behalf of The Times.
This year, Smithgall plans a quiet birthday with her family coming in at different times to be with her, Daniel said.
Other birthday wishes are that her family will stay well and that she can continue to enjoy the company of good friends, moreso as COVID-19 abates.
Smithgall, born in 1911, was about 7 years old when everyone in her family got the flu, except for her father.
He took care of her mother, who was seriously ill with the flu, as well as the three children, including Smithgall’s brother and sister.
She described that pandemic as “really a terrible experience.”
“Everybody was afraid that they would get it,” she said.
She received her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in February and is now fully vaccinated against the disease caused by the coronavirus. She said she had no reaction to the shot.
Now, she said she “thinks about people all over the world who need a vaccine to keep from getting that awful, awful disease.”
She called medicine one of the biggest advancements of her lifetime.
Smithgall founded The Times with her husband Charles in 1947, and the two made many philanthropic contributions to the Gainesville community, including her work founding The Arts Council in 1970 and helping bring her husband’s vision to life in 2015 in creating the Gainesville campus of the Atlanta Botanical Garden on a 168-acre land donation.
“You know, when she reached 100 it was just so wonderful and remarkable,” Daniel said. “Each year since we've felt the same, and our awe grew greater.”