Ethel Richburg celebrates her 108th birthday. Photo by Kenne’ Shute

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — Ethel Richburg, now residing in the Haynes Manor Community with her daughter, Kenne’ Shute, “turned 108 years young” Sept. 5, their neighbor, Blondell Strong, has reported.

Richburg has lived nearly twice as long as a woman’s 56-year life expectancy in 1912 when Woodrow Wilson defeated President William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt and Eugene Debs. When Richburg was called that Saturday afternoon, Shute spoke for her. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, they had no visitors.

“She has been satisfied with that,” said Shute, 85.

How’d Richburg live so long? “‘By being a good girl,’” Shute replied for her mother.

Love is another reason, according to the woman from Manning, SC. Richburg taught elementary school for 40 years. Shute said, “When we go back to Manning, her former students come to visit at our house and we have dinner.”

“She’s been with me (on and off) for 20 years. We go back and forth to South Carolina.”

Richburg was the youngest of 10 children. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C. Her education started earlier.

“When her sister [the second youngest of the 10, who also lived more than 100 years] came home from school, she got a switch stick (because teachers always had a switch to make students behave) and taught her what she had learned in school that day,”said Shute, whose aunt was so successful that when her younger sister entered school, she already knew what was being taught, so she was promoted early, much to the dismay of her sister who then realized her student was a classmate, seen as her equal.

At age 45, “She was teaching,” Shute said. Asked about 45, Shute replied, “She thinks he’s crazy.”

Barack Obama is her favorite president. “When she had her 100th birthday, the president and Michelle sent her two birthday letters,” Shute said. The event was posted on the Internet. “In a short while, she has more than 1,000 likes.”

Shute said there are five things “her mother always told her.” They are: always trust God; honor your parents; treat people the way you’d want to be treated; give of what little you have to the Lord, the children and your family; and that she “didn’t have a man to worry her to death.”

“‘But I was married to one for 19 months,’” Shute said, quoting her mother. That was “long enough for her to have me.” Shute is an only one child.

“When I was three months old, he decided to go to New York City to seek his fortune,” Shute continued. “Then he contacted her saying, ‘Take your baby to your momma and gather all your money and come up here.’ She took her baby to her parents.” Richburg stayed in Manning. “That was the end of that mess.”

As for whether she lived longer without a husband, Shute said, “That’s the part she laughs about all the time.”

It’s one thing Shute sees in her mother as a regret. “She thought she’d have a better life.”

Richburg’s advice to young couples: “‘Have more than one child. One will wear them out. Another will help out.’ The 10 of them were happy in a loving family. She is the only one left of her generation on both sides of her family.”


Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical...