Birdie Johnson, shown here playing Scrabble in 2012, passed away this week at 110 years of age. [Mail Tribune / file photo]

Medford resident Birdie Johnson dies at 110

Birdie Johnson wasn't one for a lot of fuss.

The Medford resident was intriguing to local media and medical professionals for the past decade as she inched her way, ever so calmly, to 110 years of age, but she never hinted at any special tricks to living so long.

When she was interviewed in 2012 after turning 106, Johnson laughed softly at the tired questions over her longevity, noting, "When they find out how old I am, everyone wants to know how I lived that long.

"I guess I just kept living. Then they always ask, 'What's your secret?' Well I don't have one. I didn't do anything any different than anyone else would. I've just always been healthy. And the good Lord just took care of me."

After being named a supercentenarian by the Gerontology Research Group after her 110th birthday in November, Johnson, according to daughter-in-law Patricia Johnson, was "finally ready to go."

Johnson was likely the oldest person in Oregon until she died on Monday, and was one of about 40 people in the United States to reach 110. Johnson was born Birdie Elizabeth Kingsley on Nov. 9, 1906.

A native of tiny Mansfield, South Dakota, population 93 in 2010, Johnson was the granddaughter of English immigrants who trekked from New York to South Dakota after the Civil War.

Growing up on a farm, the 5-foot-tall Birdie was the youngest of six children. She left South Dakota at age 20 shortly after marrying Theodore "Ted" Johnson in 1926, and she moved to Oregon in 1937.

Known for her love of Scrabble, Birdie worked in the SOS Packing Co. in Medford, sorting pears to help support her family. She enjoyed learning everything from playing piano and writing poetry to creating oil paintings.

"She always said it was just what the good Lord did, letting her be with us all for so long," Patricia Johnson said. "She played her last few games of Scrabble at 109, and she even won one of them, and she played Bingo all the way up to 110. In November, she wanted to know who won the election," said Johnson.

"She held on to November, because we told her we wanted her to be in the history books. She'd been ready since then. She just finally went to sleep. She was peaceful."

Johnson rarely took medications, except for eye drops to ensure she could see the print in a well-worn dictionary for her beloved Scrabble games. She was finally bedridden in her last days as her body gave way, but her mind was still sharp, family members said.

"She was still just as feisty even at the end," said Patricia Johnson.

Birdie had four children, all of whom are in their 80s. Her oldest child, Crescent City resident Don Johnson, said he always felt grateful to have had his mother for so long, never realizing life could be any different.

"To me it just seemed like that was natural; like she was going to do that just because she was just 'Mom' for all those years. It was quite an experience for all of us, and I can't help think how lucky we all were to have had so much time with her," said the son.

"She always had her Scrabble board and her dictionary in her drawer at the nursing home (where she moved after turning 106). When we would come to visit, we knew we needed to get that Scrabble game out, because we were going to be playing Scrabble. It really did keep her mind sharp ... she was just really incredible."

Johnson was preceded in death by her husband, Ted Johnson, in May 1988, and she is survived by her children, Donald (Loretta) Johnson of Crescent City; Roland (Patricia) Johnson of Medford; Bonnie (Gerald) Licht of Medford; and Theola (Oris) Wolff of Myrtle Point.

She is also survived by 13 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren and 16 great-great-grandchildren scattered throughout Oregon, Texas, California and Washington.

A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Saturday, May 27, at Conger-Morris in Central Point.

— Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at

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