Richard Overton, America’s oldest veteran — and oldest man, period — is cooler than you. That’s because Overton is cooler than pretty much everyone. The WWII veteran turned a stunning 112 years old today, and will be celebrating at his home with his favorite whiskey and cigars, surrounded by the friends and family who are determined to allow him to live as independently as he can for as long as possible.
Richard Arvin Overton was born on May 11, 1906 in Bastrop County, Texas and joined the Army in 1940. The U.S. Military was still segregated then, and he served throughout the South Pacific in all-African American units until the war ended in 1945, including stops in Hawaii, Guam, Palau, and Iwo Jima. After the war, he returned to Texas and bought the land where he built the modest home he still owns in East Austin for $4,000. Overton worked for local furniture stores and the Texas Department of the Treasury, and married twice but never had children.
All in all, an admirable but not particularly newsworthy life — until Overton passed the century mark and just…kept…going.
News media looking for a good human interest story quickly discovered that Overton was absolutely delightful — a witty charmer who loved telling stories and showing the memorabilia he had collected over the years.
He has consistently thanked God, whiskey, and his favorite cigars (Tampa Sweet Perfectos, a dozen a day) for his longevity. When Comedian Steve Harvey asked Overton if there were any other secrets to a long life, Overton replied with his typical plainspoken humor, “Just keep living. Don’t die.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry stopped by Overton’s home in 2013 to wish him a happy birthday, bringing a bottle of bourbon, and Overton was honored with a visit to the White House later that same year, where President Barack Obama recognized him in a ceremony for veterans.
Last year, the city of Austin honored their longest resident by renaming Hamilton Avenue, the street where he lives, Richard Overton Avenue. A fitting honor for the man who has found such joy there, holding court on the front porch of his home whenever weather permits so he can chat with his neighbors, remaining family members (a first cousin lives down the street and a third cousin also lives in town), or the many well-wishers who drive down his street every day to shake his hand and get a photo.
I had the pleasure of meeting Overton several years ago when I was in Austin, and it was clearly evident that he truly enjoyed being surrounded by people, whether it was a neighbor he had known for decades, a friend from one of the local veterans groups, or just some dorky reporter like me, asking him the same questions he’s undoubtedly answered a million times.
The Austin community has rallied around Overton through the years, helping raise funds to fix and maintain his home several years ago so he could continue to safely live there.
Now that Overton requires round-the-clock care, the community has stepped up again. A GoFundMe page was established to pay for his live-in caretakers in December 2016. He has four of them who switch off in 12-hour shifts and take care of everything he needs, from raising the blinds to let in sunlight, to preparing meals, to pouring him a whiskey and Coke.
This level of care is expensive, but his loved ones believe it’s absolutely essential to keep Overton in his own home. He’s been there for so long and gets so much joy and comfort from being in familiar surroundings and greeting his daily parade of fans, they worry moving him would hasten the end.
But for today, it’s all about celebrating. There will be the customary party on his front lawn, with children lined up to take their photo with him like he’s Santa Claus. Joining the festivities this year will be a DJ, food and drinks, and t-shirts that say “Keep Living, Don’t Die.”
So here’s to Richard Overton — May God bless him today and all his remaining years with plenty of friends, whiskey, and cigars.
Help Richard Overton “Just Keep Living” in his home by supporting the GoFundMe here: Help Richard Overton.
UPDATE: Here’s a short video clip from Overton’s birthday celebration, currently underway.
Overton also got a visit from the local police department earlier today:
When I went by to see Mr. Overton this morning, they told him the police Chief was here to see him, he asked “what did I do?” 😀 Happy 112th birthday Mr. Richard Overton! 🎉 #AustinPD #RichardOverton pic.twitter.com/BvYzu9hdkn
— Chief Brian Manley (@Chief_Manley) May 11, 2018
— Austin Police Department (@Austin_Police) May 11, 2018
Follow Richard’s adventures on Instagram: @therichardoverton.
Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.
[Correction: The first sentence originally said Overton was the oldest American, but he’s the oldest American man. The article has been updated.]