Taking a wicked slice with his tennis racket on his 100th birthday recently, John Littley swung himself right off his feet. But he got up quickly, leaned on his walker, pursed his lips and volleyed another ball over the net at the Vancouver Tennis Center.
A barnstormer at the dawn of aviation in the 1920s, an Alaska bush pilot in the 1930s, Littley is a tough survivor, and he’s always loved tennis.
“When he starts whistling,” said his smiling daughter Joanne, 62, “you know things are going very well.”
He whistled this day. More than anything, he wanted to play tennis on his 100th birthday, his daughter said. Not a real game, because he can’t walk steadily after recent falls — but a good half-hour of brisk shots and hard returns.
“I’ll hit a few,” said Littley, with a big grin.
He’s raised sheep and grapes, built machinery, welded and traded real estate.
He also is Washington State University’s oldest master gardener. He hasn’t been active in the program for about 18 months, but he’s still raising an array of vegetables at the Orchards home he shares with his daughter.
Airplanes were his first love — along with tennis. He started playing in 1908 at the court next to his home in Pennsylvania.
“Yeah, I guess I was five or six,” he said, showing off a racket he has kept all his life. Narrower than a modern racket, it has been restrung many times, he said.
“I was pretty good,” he said, working on his backhand.
His health is hearty. He eats whatever is put in front of him. He invests in the stock market and has made a good deal of money, his daughter said. He reads financial magazines, and he loves to watch TV and tend his vegetables.
And he hopes, he said, to keep finding time for tennis occasionally.
“I’m going to live until I die,” he said. And he whopped a few more balls.
Article excerpt, by Dean Baker, and photo courtesy of the Columbian newspaper.