JANUARY 14, 2013 | FRANCE
Irénise Moulonguet, who turned 112 in November 2012, is thought to be the oldest living French citizen. She is well-known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Until recently, Maria Richard—another centenarian who lived in France—was thought to be the oldest living French person. But in fact, she was 22 days younger than Irénise. Maria Richard, who died last October at nearly 112, was also one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Irénise has not always had an easy life. When she was just two years old, she survived the eruption of Mount Pelée, situated near her native village in Martinique. At the age of 15, Irénise moved to French Guiana and found work in order to provide financial support for her family back home. When she returned to Martinique years later, she got married and started a family. Sadly, her husband, André, died when he was still young, leaving her to raise three daughters alone.
To support herself and her children, Irénise worked on banana plantations. One of her former workmates, who is now in his 80’s, still remembers her hardworking spirit. He says: “She was capable of preparing over 175 hefty clusters of bananas for shipment in just one day!”
Though life has sometimes been hard, Irénise has always kept a positive outlook. One of her 75 descendants described her as “very humorous, witty, and always ready to share fond memories.” Such a description characterizes many old-timers.
Although genetic factors may contribute to a long life, lifestyle and optimism seem to be important as well. When asked about their longevity, many centenarians say that they stick to a steady routine, eat moderately, and maintain their zest for life. One study concludes: “They appear to be very active and dynamic people.”
Contrary to popular belief, long-lived individuals did not necessarily have an easy life. One extensive study in France showed that most centenarians appear to be survivors, “robust individuals who have triumphed over the hardships they have faced.”
That is certainly true of Irénise, who has endured her share of adversity. One of her grandsons often speaks with admiration of her positive attitude. He says: “Although her ability to move is severely limited now, she never complains.”
A Roman Catholic by birth, Irénise had many questions about God and the brevity of life. She found satisfying answers by studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. At age 74, she dedicated her life to Jehovah God. When asked what helps her to cope with aging and health problems, she often says: “Jehovah is my strength. He is my ‘strong arm.’ That’s why I feel ‘renewed from day to day’!”—Deuteronomy 3:24; 2 Corinthians 4: