PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — “Happy birthday to you…”
Friends and family sing the familiar song as they gather at a Hill District church to celebrate Lillian Allen’s 106th birthday.
“I never smoked nor drank,” she says.
Her daughter, Carol Green, says that’s only part of it.
“She just laughs a lot,” her daughter smiles. “And she eats. She has a tremendous appetite.”
Lillian was an early inspiration for her grandson, Ronald Layton, who guards presidents for the Secret Service.
“She has an internal drive and compass to move forward that is unmatched and unsurpassed,” he says. “And I was blessed to be in the same family.”
As a young woman, his grandmother opened one of Pittsburgh’s first African American beauty shops, with eight employees. She was in the business of beauty for more than 65 years, the last few of those years operating out of the back of her house. She finally quit at the age of 103. Not that she wanted to.
“I didn’t finally stop,” she says. “My daughter stopped me!”
“I’m 66,” Carol responds. “And I said, ‘You’ve been doing this since before I was born. So it’s really time for you to stop. Just take it easy for a while.’”
But Lillian is not one to take it easy.
Prior to the Civil Rights era, she says a local sandwich shop owner made a big mistake.
“He says, ‘You won’t eat it here.’ And that made me so angry. Because my face was black, I couldn’t eat a sandwich. So I threw it in his face,” she said.
When the party’s over, Lillian and her family walk back to her house, a block away. She plans to stay in her own home till she’s 110. At least.