Going Strong at New Horizons

Florence Himes may be 108 but she has yet to slow down. She is so fast on her walker she is almost a blur as she negotiates the halls of New Horizons Tower, the not-for-profit Toronto seniors residence she has called home for 20 years. She lives in the assisted-living area on the second floor, but is up and down the elevator several times daily. Who better, then, to take on a bunch of young whipper-snappers in the residence's 200-storey stair challenge in June 2003 to raise money for low-income seniors who want to live at New Horizons.

"I told them I thought I would win," she confides. "I wanted to win. (The retirement home's administrator) Mr. (Ian) Logan was counting on me for the money."

As six runners ran a route up and down the buildings stairs, Himes rode the elevator on a gold brocade chair. At every other floor, she was up, on her walker, out in the hallway and back inside the elevator again.

"I kept asking her if she wanted to stop. I'd say 'Had enough, Nanny?' and she would say no," says Cliff Himes, her 74-year-old stepson who rode along with her. "She never gives up."

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An active lifestyle is not new to Himes. She's participated in a fundraising walk within the residence - and walked the farthest and raised the most money. For years she has made doilies to sell at the Christmas sale. At 105, she was off to see Niagara Falls, and she's never missed the residence's annual outing to see the fall colours.

"If there's something going on, she wants to be a part of it, she's always been like that," her stepson says.

Widowed three times, she's lived throughout Southern Ontario, in Montreal and in Manitoba, where her family emigrated from England when she was 14. She's worked on a farm, as a dressmaker and in a munitions factory during the Second World War. She also used to mix cement, hang wallpaper, lay tiles and do her own wiring around the house. Her son Ross, a doctor, died three years ago.

Only her hearing aids indicate she has lived in three centuries.

How has she managed to live so long? "I don't worry," she says with a wide grin. "I do what I can about things and let the rest take care of itself."

And the stair challenge? She won. The fastest runner - a 40-year-old pilot and jogger - ran past Himes seconds after she had completed her 200 flights. The event raised more than $9,000, much of it from people who had put their money on Himes to win.

"She moves like lightning," says Ian Logan, the administrator. "She's so fast she scares you."


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