Alelia Murphy was born in North Carolina in 1905, when Theodore Roosevelt was president. When she celebrated her birthday on July 6, 2019, she became the oldest living American. She was also a VNSNY patient, and her nurse Natalia M. cared for her for more than five years, until Ms. Murphy’s death in November of 2019.
When asked her secret to a long life, Ms. Murphy had a ready answer: “Trust in God and be a good person.” According to Natalia, that “is as good a recipe as any” for longevity.
Ms. Murphy lived an active, happy life. She attended college in North Carolina before marrying and moving to New York, where she was a seamstress, a baker, and an award-winning salesperson for Fuller products. Ms. Murphy was also a passionate dancer, being regularly tossed into the air while jitterbugging at Harlem’s storied Savoy Manor.
“She grew up in the South in the days before processed food, so she ate very healthy,” said Natalia. “Keeping active when you are younger, and eating healthy and continuing to do so—it really does help a lot.”
Natalia visited Ms. Murphy twice a week to clean and change the dressing on a non-healing hip wound and to check her medications and overall well-being. She also communicated regularly with Ms. Murphy’s close-knit family and with her doctor, who came to the apartment through Mount Sinai Health System’s Visiting Doctor Program, which partners with VNSNY.
Ms. Murphy’s rich and varied life was on full display at her Harlem apartment of many decades. The residence was filled with family photographs and a “proclamation wall” with citations from local officials honoring her long life.
In the years that Natalia visited Ms. Murphy in her home, the VNSNY nurse had become a familiar face and sounding board to many of her elderly neighbors. “It’s a good feeling,” Natalia said, “being here to help.”
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