Yesterday, in Great Falls, Montana, Walter Bruening died of natural causes. At 114 years, he was the world’s oldest man.
Since reading this news, I’ve become interested in Bruening’s life – tracking down interviews, videos, reports. Everyone who had contact with Bruening agrees that his words were wise. A long-time railroad man (he worked 50+ years), Bruening had a life characterized by hard work and discipline. He ate in moderation, helped others, and embraced change, including the necessity of death. All the while he remained witty and plainspoken.
Below I’ve compiled some of Bruening’s statements on topics ranging from his life’s greatest moment to neckties. Together they portray a man whose existence spanned three centuries. They also provide practical advice for those of us fortunate enough to still be here.
On his childhood – “At that time there was no electricity, no kerosene lamps. Transportation was only horses and the Chicago Northern Railroad. No running water in the houses. No bathroom in the houses.”
On memory – “Memorize the things that happen to you as a kid, and keep remembering them. 50 years, 100 years from now, these will be your memories. I remember lots of things from back then. When I was four years old, I got my first haircut. I had long curls.”
On his greatest moment – “Halley’s Comet. And that was the nicest sight you ever saw. It was a flash of fire at night across the sky.”
On work – “Everybody says your mind is the most important thing about your body. Your mind and your body. You keep both busy, and by God you’ll be here a long time.”
On eating – “When my wife passed away, I got in the habit of having just two meals a day [breakfast and lunch], and I’ve stayed the same weight – about 130 pounds – for years and years and years.”
On walking – “If you can get out and walk, that’s the best thing in the world for you.”
On the Rainbow Senior Living Center (where he lived in a studio apartment since 1980) – “We’re all one big family, I tell you that. We all talk to each other all the time. That’s what keeps life going. You talk.”
On neckties (which he wore every single day) – “I never felt dressed up unless I had a tie on. I used to wear one even when I went fly-fishing.”
On George W. Bush – “He got us into war. We can’t get out of war now. His father was a pretty good president, not too bad. The kid had too much power.”
On helping people – “Be kind to everybody; people should be helping other people.”
On death – “We’re going to die. Some people are scared of dying. Never be afraid to die. Because you’re born to die.”
On his 114th birthday wish – “I’ve already got everything. Every day is a good day. That’s what you have to think about: every day is a good day, and make it that way.”