At 110 years of age, Richard Overton has lived in his self-built house for more than six decades. But now living on his own isn’t as easy as it once was. Without anyone to care for him, it looks like he will have to enter an assisted living home. What’s more, that would be a move that relatives believe will send him to his grave. But will the kindness of strangers help Overton to stay in the house that he loves?
Overton was born on May 11, 1906, in Bastrop County, Texas. His great-great-grandfather was John Overton, a renowned American banker and politician who served as a judge at the Superior Court of Tennessee. What’s more, Overton is also distantly related to Andrew Jackson, the seventh President of the United States.
With war being waged across the world, Overton enlisted in the United States Army on September 3, 1940. As a new recruit, he was assigned to duty in the South Pacific. One year later, he watched as the Japanese sank American ships in Pearl Harbor, and the United States entered World War II.
From Hawaii, Overton went on to serve in Guam, Palau and Iwo Jima. After experiencing some of the most infamous battlegrounds of the war, Overton returned to civilian life in October 1945. The war was over, and he went back to Texas to work in a furniture store.
However, Overton eventually decided to embark on another career change. Indeed, he moved to Austin, Texas, and took a job at the Texas Department of the Treasury. Over the years, he would wed twice – although neither of his marriages produced any children.
For the most part, Overton lived a quiet life. Then, in 2013, he hit headlines around the world. By that time, he was the oldest World War II veteran still living in the U.S. When interviewed by Fox News about his plans for the coming Memorial Day celebrations, he told them that he intended to spend it drinking whiskey and smoking cigars.
That Memorial Day turned out to be an eventful one for the 107-year-old Overton. Indeed, it saw him being visited at his home by Rick Perry, who was Governor of Texas at the time. What’s more, he was soon to receive a very special invitation. Incredibly, then-President Barak Obama welcomed Overton into the White House on Veterans Day later in the year. Obama even went on to honor Overton during a speech he made that same day.
Now a widower, Overton returned to the home that he had built himself more than 60 years earlier. However, as he grew older, his health began to decline. But because the family members Overton was closest to had all passed away, the question of who would care for him was difficult to resolve.
Eventually, Overton moved in with a friend who began to look after the ageing veteran. However, at 90 years of age, she soon also needed the help of a carer herself. So Overton moved back into his own home, where he hoped to stay. But his advanced years posed a challenge for his surviving family members.
“We know that moving him out of his house will put him in the grave,” Overton’s cousin Volma told CNBC. Knowing that he needed assistance to remain in his own home, Overton contacted Veterans Affairs. A government-run organization, it provides financial support to veterans living in the United States.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Veterans Affairs could not help Overton to stay at home. Apparently, it was only able to provide a nurse to attend to Overton for three hours a day. Failing that, his only other option was to move into a care home.
Because of Overton’s age, however, his family believed that he required round-the-clock care. “He just needs someone around him just in case he falls,” Volma said to CNBC. “To pick him up and make sure he’s not hurt.” Sadly, such care does not come cheap. Indeed, Volma estimated the cost of a live-in assistant to be around $480 a day.
Unable to find such a sum, Overton’s family took some unusual steps in order to help him retain his independence. At the suggestion of Volma’s daughter, they started a GoFundMe campaign. Launched on December 27, 2016, it aimed to raise $50,000 to pay for a full-time caregiver in Overton’s home.
Astonishingly, the fund reached its target in just two days. Stunned, Volma upped the goal to $100,000 – only to watch as that target was also passed. As of March 2017, the total stands at more than $165,500, donated by well-wishers from around the world.
Overton was shocked by the generosity of the supporters who donated to his campaign. “All these people care for me?” he asked CNBC in disbelief. To those who know him, however, there’s no secret as to how Overton has won over the hearts – and wallets – of so many.
Back in 2015, two filmmakers from Austin released Mr. Overton, a 12-minute documentary about Overton’s life. Narrated by Overton himself, it follows him around his neighborhood as he drives his truck, goes to church and meets with his 91-year-old girlfriend, Miss Love.
In fact, Overton is proud of the fact that he can still drive despite his advanced years. “Everything they give me now I pass it,” he told the filmmakers. “I feel good going on driving. I like to drive myself, ’cause other drivers, they drive crazy.”
The documentary, which Volma referenced in his GoFundMe campaign, went on to be a hit. It toured the film festival circuit after its release and currently has more than 40,000 views on YouTube. It certainly showcased the colorful personality that Overton has become known for over the years.
As to the secret of his long life, Overton clearly enjoys the finer things – namely whiskey and Tampa Sweet cigars. “One shot of whiskey to wake him up and get him going,” Volma explained to CNBC, “and one to put him to sleep. And the cigars in between.”
Currently, Volma is sharing caring duties with a friend, ensuring that Overton has the help that he needs every day. However, thanks to the generosity of strangers, the veteran will soon benefit from full-time care – and the knowledge that he can live out his days comfortably in his own home. As he approaches his 111th birthday, it’s a beautiful gift that his family hope will comfort him in his old age.