At 100, Ruth Mansell has a message for the young

Published 12:04 pm Monday, October 25, 2010

Ruth Mansell has some words of advice for anyone who’d like to live long: slow down.

The former first lady of Vicksburg’s First Presbyterian Church is wrapping up her first century and is ready to take on the next. Thursday marks her 100th birthday, an event she will celebrate Tuesday with her friends at Belmont Gardens and Wednesday with a quiet family gathering at daughter Mary Pope’s Lake Claiborne home.

Asked about reaching the century mark, she thought for a moment. “Well, you can’t help getting there,” she said, and then laughed.

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To others, it might not seem so easy.

“Maybe they should just slow down,” she said. “I’ve always been slow,” she said and laughed again.

A quick sense of humor and sharp mind belie that self-appraisal, but Mrs. Mansell does rely on a cane and walker to get around, and her hearing and vision are not as good as they were in the days when she was teaching Sunday school and listening to her husband’s sermons at the old stone church at Cherry and South streets.

She relies on a couple of technological advances to help her read and listen to music, but says she does not get caught up with computers and other conveniences that speed up the world for most folks. “I don’t worry about all those things,” she said.

“She detaches from the fast and fury that is our world,” said Pope. “That has not been a part of her world. Our father was the fast and furious for her.”

The Rev. William F. Mansell, was the minister at First Presbyterian from 1940 to 1943 and again from 1946 to 1975. The couple was married for nearly 64 years.

“I loved it,” Mrs. Mansell said of being a minister’s wife. “I had the best preacher in the world.”

Church members knew her as completely dedicated to her family, putting her husband first.

“She is a marvelous mother and was a marvelous minister’s wife,” said Patsy Halford, who was church secretary for 41 years, including Dr. Mansell’s tenure there. “They were an ideal family — conscientious, they loved one another, and they definitely taught the children that, especially Mrs. Mansell, as she was the one who was with the children most of the time.”

“She let my daddy lead the church and she was just supportive of him,” said Pope. “That was the role she played.”

Halford remembers Dr. Mansell, who died in 2003, as a sincere, caring minister who always kept the best interests of his flock in mind. “I thought he hung the moon,” she said. “He married me and my husband, and when he married you, you knew he really meant it.” The Halfords have been married 57 years.

During the Mansells’ time at First Presbyterian, Mrs. Mansell taught first- and second-grade Sunday school and was active in whatever the church women were doing, especially in the area of foreign missions. The women spent many days ripping up sheets and rolling them into bandages, said Sarah Randall, the Mansells’ other daughter.

When Dr. Mansell left First Presbyterian, the congregation named the church fellowship room Mansell Hall in honor of the couple. Dr. Mansell accepted a job as minister of a small church in Alabama, but retired after just a few years.

“I think of them as my very dearest friends,” Mrs. Mansell said of the people at First Presbyterian. “We left Vicksburg for a little while but when he retired we came right back.”

In retirement, Dr. Mansell served 13 different churches in an interim role.

“I remember when Daddy was about 80 he said to me, ‘I do believe it is finally time for me to stop preaching,’” said Pope.

In his 80s, Dr. Mansell was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and though the couple planned to move together to Belmont Gardens, he died before making the move.

Mrs. Mansell has lived there seven years in a compact apartment with a view of the inner courtyard. She reads — “whatever Mary brings me from the library,” as well as her Bible, Our Daily Bread devotionals and the newspaper — makes coffee, goes out to get her hair done weekly and is taken on other outings with Pope and Randall.

A mouse device magnifies her reading material onto the TV screen, and when she watches church services an amplifier helps her hear them. “I learned about the mouse through First Presbyterian church folks,” she said. “That has just been wonderful.”

Meals are prepared and served by the Belmont Gardens staff. “Everybody has been so good to me,” she said.

She also writes weekly to her three sisters, Marion Weersing, 96, of Clinton, S.C., Rachel Owens, 93, of Hattiesburg and Adeline Ostwalt, 92, of Davidson, N.C.

The Manells’ son, W. Frank Mansell Jr., like his father a Presbyterian minister, lives in Charleston, W.V. and is expected for the family party.

Mrs. Mansell is also grandmother to six boys and two girls, and great-grandmother to 10 who range in age from 3 1/2 to 14.