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A centennial of memories
Dawson County woman celebrates 100th birthday
Frances Griffith blows out her candle at her 100th birthday party. She was joined by her two sons and their families at North Georgia Assisted Living and Memory Care for burgers, cake and ice cream. - photo by Jessica Brown

The year is 1918. President Woodrow Wilson delivers his Fourteen Points speech. The United States Congress establishes time zones and daylight savings time. Everyone scans the newspaper for reports from the battlefields of the First World War.

It was a completely different world when little Frances Norris was born. One frigid night during a blizzard on a family farm in northern Kansas, David and Marie welcomed their only child into the world. One hundred years later, Frances celebrated her birthday with six generations of family at Dawsonville’s North Georgia Assisted Living and Memory Care facility.

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Griffith as an infant in 1918. - photo by For the Dawson County News

“She grew up at a time of incredible change in the world,” said her youngest son, Bill, at a party for his mother on Jan. 31. “It’s incredible the number of things she has seen introduced into the world in her lifetime: flight, the introduction of all the technology we have today, it’s just amazing the difference between the world she was born into in 1918 and the world we have today in 2018.”

When Frances was a little girl, she attended a one room schoolhouse until the eighth grade, which she remembers fondly. She also loves telling one particular story about her father who didn’t allow her to wear red clothing.

Her father, who was nearly 60 when Frances was born, had spent many years as an Indian Scout for wagon trains during the 1870s gold rush. He would travel from Nebraska to the Dakota Territory and even met Calamity Jane. Being a very devout Christian, David Norris didn’t approve of the professional women he encountered who often wore elaborate red dresses in the saloons as a sign of their profession. Her sons said Frances always loves telling people she never wore red because it always reminded her father of the saloon girls.

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Griffith with her childhood dog, Fido, on her farm in Kansas in the early 1920s. - photo by For the Dawson County News

 In 1930, her parents sold the family farm and moved to Washington, Kan., and Frances graduated from Washington High School in 1935.

During her education, Frances fell in love and married her high school sweetheart, Charles Griffith, after graduation. They were married for 53 years until his passing in December 1988.

During the 1930s, tragedy hit the middle of the country. The Dust Bowl swept across the plains, causing livestock and crops to die and leaving millions of people poor and desperate for work.

In 1939 Charles and Frances packed up their daughters Barbara, Scharlene and Pricilla and said goodbye to Kansas. The young family made their way to California in their 1930 Model A Ford, settling in Las Angeles where jobs were more plentiful.

The next year, Griffith gave birth to her first son, Charles Jr., and would complete her family with her second son, Bill, in 1956.

The Griffith family found prosperity and happiness in California. Charles Sr. got a job with North American Aviation and worked in the aerospace industry for the rest of his career, including the Gemini and Apollo Moon missions and the very early days of the Space Shuttle.

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Griffith and her husband Charles with their children: Barbara, Scharlene, Pricilla, Charles Jr. and Bill celebrating Thanksgiving in Los Angeles in 1961. - photo by For the Dawson County News

Griffith remembered her early years back in Kansas and said she loved being around the animals on the farm. For a time, she once again had a family farm and raised cows, chickens and rabbits.

She wasn’t just a loving mother and wife. She worked many different jobs outside of the home. Being raised on a farm gave Griffith a green thumb and a knack for growing plants, so she found working in a nursery second nature. She was also a manager for a construction company and was a school cafeteria manager for nearly 20 years before retiring in 1980.

As time passed, Griffith’s children grew up, moved away and started their own families. Her five children moved all over the country: New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C. and Dawsonville. Her daughters, Barbara, Scharlene and Pricilla, have since died.  

Griffith has created five generations of family and endless memories and love. With 16 grandchildren, numerous great-grandchildren, a few great-great-grandchildren and even one great-great-great-grandchild, her legacy continues to grow.

In 2013, Charles Jr. sold his business and moved to the Atlanta area with his wife, Terryll, to be near their son and his family. Frances came with them and has been enjoying the north Georgia weather ever since.

Family from all over the country flew in for the big celebration on Jan. 31. Charles Jr., Bill, their wives, several grandchildren and one great grandchild were able to make it to Dawsonville for the very special occasion.

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Frances Griffith celebrates her 100th birthday. She was born Jan. 31, 1918. - photo by Jessica Brown

“This is very special,” said Bill. “She said to me some years ago, I said ‘Mom if you take good care of yourself you’re going to live to be 100 and she said ‘I don’t know that I want to live to be 100,’ but yesterday when we had lunch with her she said ‘you know it’s amazing that I’m still here and I can’t wait to see what comes next.’ I think she’s very excited today and we are very excited to be celebrating with her as well.”

When asked what her secret was to reaching her 100th birthday, Frances didn’t know. She thought for a moment about her answer.

“Walking and playing bingo,” she said.

Frances has enjoyed walking for exercise for years. As for bingo, she loves to play as often as she can with the staff at North Georgia Assisted Living and Memory Care.

“She’s just a wonderful lady,” said Susy Hollaway, the activity director who helped plan the birthday celebration.

After a nice lunch, her family sang “Happy Birthday” and Frances blew out her single candle, which was her only request for the party.