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Doris Prater
b. October 26,1893
London, England

From her Majesty's family upstairs to the people in service downstairs, the British Isles has shown me such contrasts of life that it's often given me pause to think. I drove into Rugby at twilight, which in England in early December seems to begin at three in the afternoon, through a steady drizzle and fog, and finally found a small, kempt house on a quiet lane, my destination after an all-day drive from Liverpool.

All smiles, Doris Prater seemed to appreciate the company and all the fuss of lights and cameras as she sat in a rocker in the living room. She had been living with her daughter and son-in-law for many years, and they appeared to be a tightly knit, warm and comfortable family.

Doris was born in London. She attended school until the age of fourteen. She was a plucky child. Near the end of one school year, she leaned over to talk with a friend in class and failed to hear the question that the teacher had asked. When she was called upon to answer the question, she couldn't respond. The teacher took her from her seat and caned her. When the headmaster asked her about the caning, she replied that it was her first and her last, that she was leaving school. He asked what she was going to do, if she had any prospects, to which she replied that she hadn't. He offered her a job as a nanny in his home, taking care of his children, and so began Doris's life in service. This job lasted until she enrolled in a cooking school in Demster Hall. She began with the traditional teachings of cleanliness: scrubbing floors and pots and pans. Her dream was to become a pastry chef but she was called back home to take care of her ailing mother. There she remained, taking a job in a factory making lamp filaments for BTH national utility. She married but lost her husband when he was thirty-eight. The rest of her life was spent "downstairs" in service to others.

Doris was one of the most cheerful of all the supercentenarians I photographed. There was joy in her face that seemed to come from her closeness with her daughter and a gratitude for her surroundings. The lesson of Doris Prater supports one of the silent secrets of the supercentenarians, that longevity is enhanced by a sense of family, or in some cases, community, which provides the warmth and security of belonging.

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