Daisy Belle Ward was born in 1916 – a mere four years after the Titanic sank and two years into World War I. Of course, it goes without saying that she’s lived through some eventful times. And when in 2016 she reached the milestone of 100 years old, Ward decided to celebrate her birthday in a truly remarkable way.
Ward was born in Georgia to Thomas and Ida Green, during the height of WWI. In fact, the United Kingdom and the German Empire fought a naval battle in the North Sea the exact same day she arrived. Elsewhere, Woodrow Wilson, who died in 1924, was President of the United States at that time.
The society Ward knew back then was very different to the one we have now. For a start, women couldn’t even vote in all U.S. states yet, and violent racism was still rife. Furthermore, life expectancy wasn’t overly high – when Ward came into the world she could have been expected to live around 54 years.
But Ward ended up living almost twice her early life expectancy. She started a family in the mid-1930s, having twin boys in 1934 and two girls later on. Not only that, but she enjoyed caring for kids in general and involving them in her community work. She was deeply religious, and raised her children to be the same way.
Ward lived in several different places throughout her life – she first moved from Georgia to Florida, following her brother Frank to Orlando. She also lived in New York for a time, working as a carer. In later years, she herself was moved to a care home, but Ward kept her independence and loved being driven around.
Ward comes from a family of long-lived people – after all, her sister Harriet lived to be 102 years old. And the former herself kept busy as she approached turning 100. She traveled, served as a State Marshall Order of Eastern Stars of Pompano Beach Florida, and whenever her birthday came around, she spent it quietly with her family.
But celebrating her 100th birthday was naturally a big deal for Ward, as it would be for anyone. Often, countries mark their centenarians by sending them special gifts, like in the U.K., where a lucky recipient receives a message from Queen Elizabeth. Across the pond in the U.S., meanwhile, they would get a letter from the President.
Centenarians are celebrated because it’s still fairly rare to live to 100 – indeed there were only 316,600 of them in 2012, according to the United Nations. Life expectancy is increasing in many countries and the rising global population means that there might be many more in the future. But for now, reaching that age is very impressive.
There are many world records associated with aging – the longest-surviving person in recorded history is Jeanne Calment, who lived from 1875 to 1997 and died at the age of 122. The oldest known man is Jiroemon Kimura from Japan, who died at the age of 116 in 2013.
Those lucky enough to reach an age past 110 are known as “supercentenarians.” As of 2019, the oldest person currently living is thought to be Kane Tanaka, who is 116 years old. She lives in a care home in Fukuoka, Japan, and reportedly wants to make it to 120 before she passes away.
But, for her part, Ward turning 100 is important for another reason beyond her joining the list of centenarians. You see, this centenarian is actually 25. That’s because Daisy was born on a leap year – her birthday is February 29, which only comes around once every four years.
Leap year birthdays can be tricky – someone born on February 29 could celebrate it on either February 28 or March 1 depending on their preference. But legally it’s more difficult, and varies depending on where you are. In the U.K., for example, the legal birthday of a “leapling” is considered to be March 1.
Yet that’s far from the case everywhere. In New Zealand for instance, the official birthday for leap year babies is instead February 28. And when it comes to computers and technology, things can get very confusing, because many websites don’t even think to list February 29 on drop-down lists of dates.
Naturally, when Ward turned 100 – or 25 if you’d prefer – there was interest from the media. In 2016 CBS News, for its part, did a feature on her and of the science of leap years. And in between observing an exciting celebration for Ward, reporter Jamie Wax spoke to theoretical physicist Michio Kaku about why leap years happen in the first place.
Kaku explained, “Mother Nature has a sense of humor. She did not make a simple calendar so that when you go around the sun, it’s 365 days.” He continued, “Mother Nature made it so that every 365 days plus five hours, 49 minutes and a few odd seconds. That means that every year, we have to compensate for one quarter of a day. So after four years, we have to add one more day.”
Reporter Wax talked the audience through the history of the leap year. He explained, “Way back in 46 B.C., Julius Caesar realized the calendar they were following wasn’t working. So he consulted with an astronomer. Together they realized what the Egyptians had already discovered – that we needed that extra day every four years to stay on track.”
Wax continued, “But even [having one more day every four years] wasn’t quite right. The solar year is actually only .242 days longer than the calendar year, and not an even .25. So when we add a full day every four years, we’re actually left with a surplus of roughly 11 minutes every year. And that can start to add up.”
“So finally in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII fixed the glitch and instituted the Gregorian calendar which we still follow today,” Wax continued. Then Kaku explained the workings of the calendar we use today. He said, “The 11 minutes difference in one year’s rotation builds up.”
Kaku explained, “And that’s why the pope had to intervene and say we have to tweak the Julian calendar one more time. So, for example, in the year 1600, that is divisible by 400, there was a leap year. But in 1700, 1800, 1900 – nope, no leap year. And then [in] the year 2000 there was again a leap year.”
CNN also did a piece that year on February 29 babies, which of course included Ward. They interviewed several people, including one who’d struggled to come around to the idea of having her birthday on a leap year. Chloé Rosey from Saint Thomas said that she “kind of hated it as a kid just because I didn’t have an actual day, and all of my peers were so confused.”
Rosey eventually started to appreciate being born on a leap year, however. She told CNN it was like being “forever young.” But Nick Lemmond, born the exact same day as her, was more indifferent. He said, “My friends respect the fact that I only get a birthday every four years. So, it’s usually my friends who make a bigger deal about it than I do.”
But Lemmond and Rosey aren’t alone – quite a few famous people happen to have been born on a leap year. Daisy Ward, for example, shares her birthday with fantasy author Tim Powers, Foster the People frontman Mark Foster, Prime Minister of Spain Pedro Sánchez Pérez-Castejón, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, and rapper Ja Rule.
Ja Rule, for his part, has been known to drop the old leapling joke about being younger than he really is. In 2014 while being interviewed by Time magazine he said, “Yeah, I’m nine. I love that. I call myself Benjamin Button. Everyone gets older, I get younger.” Of course, the film The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is about a man who ages backwards.
Ja Rule couldn’t celebrate birthdays as a child because he was a Jehovah’s Witness – but now, he goes all out whenever it comes around. The same day Daisy Belle Ward turned 25, Ja Rule turned ten, and he threw a big party at the Foxtail Nightclub in Las Vegas.
Putting birthdays aside for a minute, there are many traditions relating to leap days. Wax explained on CBS News that in Britain, February 29 is supposed to be the only day a woman can propose to a man instead of the other way around. Greece takes the opposite tack: it’s bad luck to marry on a leap year there.
There are naturally superstitions regarding being born on a leap day, too. For a long time, the people of Scotland believed that being born that day set you up for a life of extremely bad luck. In a similar vein, the Chinese thought that leap year babies were harder to raise.
As Ward turned 100 years old and celebrated, her son Clinton spoke to CNN about her and the party they threw for his mom. He said, “The idea about it is this – we’re happy that she reached it. I’m 81 years old, and I would like to reach 100, but I would like to be in the state of mind just like she is.”
According to Clinton, his mother Ward said, “Let the celebration begin! Ninety-nine and a half won’t do. I’ve got to make the 100.” And thankfully, she was healthy enough to be able to really join in the party. Although she had to use a wheelchair at times, she was even able to dance among her party guests.
Clinton said of the party that Ward “was excited about it and every time we’d come to [visit her] she’d think it was the day.” And with good reason, it turned out, because Ward’s birthday celebrations actually lasted four days, to commemorate the fact that her birthday came along every four years.
Ward’s birthday party began on February 26 and it was a pretty lavish affair. On the first day, she was celebrated with a marching band at West Oakland Park Boulevard. The next day, gospel singer Dottie Peoples put on a performance for her at an event hosted by her godson.
And on February 2016 Ward attended an “all-white gala,” where guests wear their best white clothes. There, Ward was given a Centennial Certificate from then-President Barack Obama and Congressman Alcee L. Hastings. And of course, her family and friends celebrated with her.
Elsewhere, when news of Ward and her party hit the internet, people were thrilled. The website Bossip posted the story and commenters there wished her happy birthday, with one writing, “Bless her heart. A true blessing to have such a long life and still look amazing.” And another said, “I can imagine the things she has seen and learned.”
The Broward Sheriff Office in Florida posted a tribute to Ward on Twitter, writing, “BSO wishes a very happy birthday to Daisy Belle Ward, born on February 29, 1916, the nation’s oldest leap day baby.” Elsewhere on the social media site, another user declared Ward’s longevity to be “life goals.”
Sadly, though, Ward didn’t live much longer after her 100th birthday – she passed away on September 26, 2016. Her obituary noted that she was “a proud Member of The Honor Society of Leap Year Day Babies” and also that her family had submitted her to the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest leap year child in the U.S.
However, despite living an incredibly long life, Ward didn’t actually hold the record in the end. CBS News found another woman who had been born on a leap year and had turned 104. So Broward Sheriff Office’s statement about her being “the Nation’s oldest leap day baby” was inaccurate, but that shouldn’t take anything away from Ward’s achievement.
Of course, living to 100 years old is no mean feat. When reporting on Ward’s story, the website Black Doctor took note of “the three common traits that all centenarians have.” The site noted, “It is overwhelmingly women who live to age 100. In 2010 82.8 percent of centenarians were female.”
Living in an urban area apparently also helped a person pass 100. Black Doctor continued, “A large majority of the oldest U.S. citizens live in urban areas.” Elsewhere, the third most common trait among those who live longer was living with other people. Essentially, having people consistently around you, just as Ward appears to have had, can help you live longer.
There are other factors which contribute to living longer too, of course. Scientists think that trying to live a life as stress-free as possible might help. Eating and sleeping better will keep you healthier in general – and even something as simple as doing a crossword puzzle could help keep your brain active as you get older.
One interesting fact, however, is that people of faith tend to live longer, according to research. In February 2018 Time magazine reported that, “A number of studies have shown associations between attending religious services and living a long time.” And her obituary does point out that Ward was very much a religious person.
Turning 100 and 25 simultaneously is something very few people in the world get to do. But it seems Ward’s friends and family remember her more for her personality than her impressive age. One of the comments on her Facebook reads, “Thank you for living the life. Sorry for your passing, but glad you made it to your 25th birthday.”