God willing, come January 15, 2018, Phyllis Levy will have the rarest kind of birthday party, even for the staff and residents of Aston Gardens at Parkland Commons.
On that day, she’ll turn 100, celebrating a century of living that has spanned four continents, a World War, brushes with royalty, a tropical paradise to call home, and a loving, supportive family.
Because Levy is 99, daughter Vanessa took over the interview duties for this article.
Vanessa says her mother has had “quite the life,” which started with a move from her native Jamaica to England for a proper education in the 1930s.
There she met a young man and fell in love. They got married and she traveled the world with her new husband, who was a member of the Royal Air Force (RAF). The British Empire was still quite large in those days, and that meant periods of time stationed in the likes of Singapore, Hong Kong, and West Africa.
While in West Africa, the young couple had a houseguest for two weeks, a man her husband had known in his youth in England. His legal name was Philip Mountbatten, but he was born Prince Philip, Prince of Spain and Greece. Both Mountbatten and Levy’s first husband would fight in World War II - Philip in the Royal Navy, her husband in the RAF.
Philip served in the Indian Ocean and at the Battle of Crete, returning home as a lieutenant. He married Princess Elizabeth in 1947 and ascended to the Duke of Edinburgh when she became Queen in 1953.
Phyllis Levy’s husband did not survive World War II, dying in combat as a fighter pilot for the RAF. Widowed in her early 20s, Levy returned home to Jamaica alone, but at the very least in the possession of the knowledge that her first husband was part of perhaps the most pivotal battle against the forces of Adolf Hitler’s Germany. The RAF defense of Britain marked the first time Hitler’s forces failed to meet an objective, and were commemorated with Winston Churchill’s legendary words: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Of course had it not been for the War, Levy would never have gone back to Jamaica and as Vanessa says with a laugh, “been reunited with her parents, met my dad and had me!” Her family immigrated to the United States over time and when Phyllis reached her 90s, Vanessa knew it was time to give her mother’s care over to professionals.
“She moved to Aston Gardens when she was 92,” Vanessa says. “The only reason was that I was concerned she would forget to turn off the stove or have an accident.”
Vanessa appears to have been gifted with foresight, as Phyllis had a mini-stroke shortly after coming to the retirement community. Despite the ailment, she remains strong and vital despite some limitations.
“Her memory is going, some days she does not know where I’ve been or how long it’s been since I’ve been there, but she talks and she is very alert,” Vanessa says, adding the remarkable fact that her mother does not take one single prescription medication.
Both Vanessa, who lives about 20 minutes away, and Phyllis knew they had found the right place when they met the staff of the facility and found at least half of them to be from Jamaica or Haiti.
“We loved the staff. Her face lit up when she heard those accents from home,” Vanessa said. “I think maybe they go above and beyond for her because she’s from Jamaica. She is always smiling when she sees them and talks to them, and that makes me smile too.”