It is hard to imagine that Patricia Thomas has lived in three centuries. Everything from the sparkle in her eyes to the innocence of her smile and timelessness of her humor reflect energy, curiosity and, most of all, a zest for life.
On her 106th birthday Friday -- she's the oldest-known Amherst resident -- Thomas celebrated with old and new friends including Supervisor Susan J. Grelick, who presented the centenarian a town proclamation, birthday cake and birthday song at her Amherst home.
"You guys could use some practice," joked Thomas after a rendition of "Happy Birthday" by Grelick and company.
Grelick laughed and watched as Thomas blew out the candles on her cake. "That's incredible, you got it on the first try," Grelick said, after Thomas in a single puff blew out the three candles -- signifying 1-0-6 -- that represented her remarkable life.
"That was an accident," Thomas said laughing. "I didn't expect that to happen."
Anyone who knows her says Thomas is doing remarkably well for someone her age, and in fact, while she's over 100, some would say she doesn't look a day over 80 -- and may even have the energy of a 70 year old.
Thomas attributes her longevity to keeping busy and never worrying. In fact, she didn't even have any special birthday wish. "I don't want anything special for my birthday. I've had too many of them to care," said Thomas. "But I've had a good life, I can't complain."
Anyone who knows Thomas says gardening is her favorite thing. "She really loves the garden," said Francis P. Kelly, a friend who stops in regularly to look after Thomas.
Thomas' love of gardening led her to volunteer to work in the greenhouse in Veteran's Hospital, where she volunteered over 9,000 hours. She is also a member and former president of the Amherst Garden Club, the Federated Garden Club of New York State, the National Council of Garden Clubs, the Herb Society of America and is an honorary member of Smallwood Garden Club.
Thomas, who was born in Iowa in 1895, moved to Western New York about 1946, when her husband Frederick, who died in 1982, became a professor of engineering at the University of Buffalo. It was there that Thomas began a flowering crab tree collection, which soon resulted in the planting of 300 trees on the South Campus.
While Thomas had no children, she was like a grandmother to Kelly's children.
"They actually still call her grandma," said Kelly.
When Grelick presented Thomas with the proclamation, she responded modestly. "I don't want to hang this up," she said. "It's too much like bragging."
"Mrs. Thomas has had a life full of achievement," said Grelick. "Her life has spanned three centuries. She's a living history."
Anne Marie Howard, director of Amherst Meals on Wheels, has served Thomas for four years. "She really is quite a lady, a strong constitution," said Howard. "Both the staff and the volunteers at Meals on Wheels are just amazed by her strength and character; we feel very fortunate to have met her."